Cuts to budget will delay city cancer unit by six months

Health Minister Edwin Poots has warned that the opening of a new radiotherapy unit in Londonderry will be delayed by up to six months if cuts to his health budget are pushed through.

Mr Poots told members of the Stormont Health Committee on Wednesday (September 3) that £140m in proposed savings will include £2m in cuts, which will directly affect the Altnagelvin radiotherapy unit.

A health service in critical condition?

A health service in critical condition?

DUP MLA Jim Wells put it to the Minister that under the proposed cuts the planned opening date of September 2016 was likely to be delayed.

Mr Wells referred to a warning by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPSNI) in 2011 that the new Altnagelvin unit was badly needed to ease pressure on the cancer centre at Belfast City Hospital, which will reach full capacity by 2015.

Mr Wells said: “If you delay its opening for six months are we not likely to get to that position where you’re completely crammed into the city and you haven’t got the new unit open?”

The Minister responded: “As the member well knows, my first significant decision was to proceed with Altnagelvin, the radiotherapy unit at that site, and make the investment.

“And to date in terms of capital, and everything we have done, we are on target for the opening time that we had considered at the outset.

“However, all of this is reliant on having the personnel. So we could have a very nice building but not the personnel to do the work that is required.

“Those personnel require training. As things stand, they require training this year.

“There’s a proposed cut of £2m, which will inevitably delay. So we’ll have a building but not have the personnel in place, appropriately trained, to carry out that service.

“That to me is not an acceptable position.”

During the course of the briefing Mr Poots also warned that an ageing population here and projected increases in cancer and various chronic conditions by up to 30 per cent by 2020 meant a “tsunami” of services and support are going to have to be provided over the coming decade.

He said his Department’s budget has grown by just over one per cent whilst demand has grown by over five per cent and he warned that this gap was likely to widen.

Mr Poots again tied the failure to implement welfare reforms here to cuts in health.

And he once again insisted that the Executive should take a collective decision on cuts to his budget as he expects the controversial nature of the choices faced could precipitate a court challenge.

During the course of the briefing Mr Poots also quoted Londonderry doctor Tom Black, Chair of the Northern Ireland GP Committee of the British Medical Association (BMA), who has described the local health service as world class.

Mr Poots told the Committee: “‘Up until this point we’ve been providing a world class health service.’ That’s not a DUP Health Minister statement. That’s a statement of the leader of the independent representative body of general practitioners.

“We are providing a world class health service and we should never forget that.

“And why would we move away from providing a world class health service? Dr Black sees the potential to move away, should we do these things.

“I see it. I hope that the health committee will see it and therefore I’ll get the committee’s support in fighting for the health service.”