Northern Ireland

Cuts may postpone opening of Altnagelvin cancer unit

There are fears that a new radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin might not be ready as planned by 2015.

The Health Minister Michael McGimpsey announced proposals for the unit two years ago.

However, cancer sufferers and health professionals are concerned that, with looming public spending cuts, funding for the facility is not yet in place.

Currently, cancer patients from the north-west have to travel to Belfast for treatment.

Patricia Dutton, who had to undergo four weeks of radiotherapy in Belfast, said making such a long journey every day added to the stress of treatment.

"It was just hard going. Radiotherapy leaves you very tired anyway and I had to leave my daughter with my mother," she said.

Mr McGimpsey said that the delivery of the scheme was dependent on the outcome of budget negotiations with Finance Minister Sammy Wilson.

SDLP MP for Foyle Mark Durkan said that the unit must open on time no matter how much public money is available for capital expenditure projects.

"The cancer centre in Belfast will not be able to cope beyond 2015, so everybody needs this," he said.

A spokesperson for the Western Health and Social Care Trust have said that the completion date for the new unit could not be confirmed until the business case is approved later this year.

Cancer patients from Donegal, who currently have to travel to Dublin, will also be treated at Altnagelvin once the new unit opens.

A statement from the Irish Department of Health said that the department would make a financial contribution to the project. Around one third of the patients at the new centre will be from its side of the border

"In addition, the Health Service Executive's national cancer control programme will contribute on an agreed basis to the operating costs in respect of patients from the Republic of Ireland who attend this service," the statement said.