A NEWSPAPER in the North has obtained documents which show how ex-Health Minister Michael McGimpsey axed a radiotherapy unit plans for Altnagelvin – which will serve the people of Donegal – at the last minute.
The Sentinel in Derry found tha the proposed new cancer unit in Derry was amongst the five highest priorities across the North when his announcement was first drafted.
One draft even stated that there was “no alternative but to progress despite the enormous constraints on both capital and revenue”.
But less than two and a half hours after a draft stated the necessity of proceeding with construction work on the Altnagelvin project, the status had been changed.
While the announcement was originally drafted to be delivered on March 15, and then March 16, the statement was finally delivered by Mr McGimpsey on March 23, as the Assembly met for the last time; at that stage the Minister stunned people of all political hues in the North West by mothballing plans for the radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin, said the Sentinel.
Answering questions from the Sentinel after the documents were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, a Department of Health spokesman said yesterday that officials drew up “a series of drafts” adding that the final version “represented the points the Minister wished to communicate to the Assembly”.
According to the documentation supplied to the Sentinel, the initial drafts of Mr McGimpsey’s statement – timed at 14:01, 14:53 and 16:19 on March 14, 2011 – included an announcement that construction could proceed on the radiotherapy unit, subject to normal business case processes.
Yet by 18:29, the draft Ministerial announcement contained no mention of the cancer unit being one of the five highest priorities. The other four original highest priority projects were given the go ahead. These, along with projects in Antrim, Craigavon, Ballymena and Banbridge were now described as “high priority schemes”.
The statement now said: “There is also a need to provide additional radiotherapy services at Altnagelvin Hospital but the final affordability of this is dependent on the outcome of discussions with the new Government in the Republic of Ireland, who will be contributing towards the costs of this project, and the ability to identify additional revenue costs associated with the development of this specialist unit.”
By the time Mr McGimpsey made his statement to the Assembly on March 23, the project that had originally been regarded as being of such high priority that it must proceed despite financial constraints, was shelved.
Asked a number of questions about the documentation, a DHSSPS spokesman said yesterday: “As with most significant announcements a series of drafts were produced by officials. However, it was the final version which represented the points the minister wished to communicate to the Assembly.”
The unit will now go ahead – after support from the North’s two main parties Sinn Fein and the DUP – and from local TDs here in Donegal.