UUP Deputy Chair opposes his own Health Minister…

Not on everything. But it is perhaps an indication of how far Michael McGimpsey has isolated himself on the left of the party that the party’s Deputy Chair seems willing to attack his own minister in the press (even if it relates to an actual budgetary ‘cut’):

Update: According to UTV, Terry Wright appears to have resigned over the issue.

The Deputy chair of the Ulster Unionist Party has said the Health Minister’s decision to postpone a new radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin was “wrong”.

Terry Wright, who also chairs the Foyle branch of the party, said it was symptomatic of a “dysfunctional” Assembly.

He said he would work through the party to reverse the UUP minister’s decision.

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  • Mick, here is what Terry Wright said on this difficult issue back on 15 February 2011:

    “However I am firmly of the view that the Executive as a whole should take this issue on board and find the money to fund the Unit at Altnagelvin.”

    Perhaps Terry ought also to collaborate with other political parties and pressure groups, not just in Foyle but across the Alnagelvin catchment area: Donegal, Londonderry and Tyrone.

  • Mick Fealty

    Yep, that’ll be absolutely brilliant for the party in a constituency where they have absolutely no prospect of winning an Assembly seat .

    Perhaps he could join up with Padraig MacLochlainn, Joe McHugh and Charlie McConalogue in calling for the pooling of non-resources to compensate in the wake of the closure of the oncology unit at Letterkenny?

  • Turgon

    Alternatively maybe in the current climate of financial cutbacks we should accept that in order to maximise the efficiency of health care delivery we should have units running at high percentages of maximum capacity. That will mean having fewer units and yes people will have to travel. Already people in the likes of Fermanagh have to travel large distances to access specialist services.

    Even leaving money out of it the evidence seems to be that best outcomes (ie survival etc.) are delivered in large units with large throughputs. Northern Ireland is a very small region with a small population. It is probably neither possible nor medically desireable to have the smaller units all trying to do almost everything. In many parts of GB and even more so in places like North America people travel vast distances to access specialist care. Those places tend to be more efficient.

    Just as an example here is a Belfast Telegraph article suggesting that NI health care is significantly less efficient than that in the rest of the UK.

  • Mick, I’ve read Wright’s article carefully. I don’t think his appeal for a special unit in Altnagelvin has anything to do with left/right politics or the advancement of the UUP.

    There’s a depletion of financial resources certainly but ‘non-resources’? If Alex Attwood can find £10 million for Derry a few weeks before an election and Conor Murphy can prioritise road building on political rather than economic grounds perhaps local political representatives and others could persuade the Executive to have another look at what an enhanced Altnagelvin has to offer.

  • Mick Fealty

    Nevin, Let me spell it out for you. Mr Wright is the chair of the party and he’s just publicly broken ranks with with one of only two Ministers the party has. See the wood yet?

    There’s lots to be said beyond that. Turgon’s pointing to one problem. Jim Wells on Talkback took issue with the Minister’s claim that his capital budget’s been squeezed. Paul Flemming reckons it’s an anti Derry move.

    I’m simply isolated another aspect of the story (which for reasons best known to yourself, you’ve completely ignored); ie, what on earth is going on inside the UUP?

  • chinadog

    Sorry to say the tripe in posts that has gone before does nothing to ease the plight of the people of the North West I think today’s decision by the Health Minister is despicable and very short-sighted. As one of has just finished receiving Radiotherapy in the Cancer Centre in Belfast sitting everyday for 5 weeks along with people from Coleraine , Omagh, Fermanagh and Londonderry and other places throughout the province who had to travel for hours and to wait sometimes hours for their treatment which took no more than 10-15 minutes because the Cancer Centre in Belfast City Hospital is already overstretched and then have to face that long journey back again. Being diagnosed with Cancer is traumatic in itself without the added trauma of long travelling times. The money that is being spent on the A5 Road contract would run the centre at Altnagelvin Hospital and be more important beneficial to the health of everyone than a pet plan of a Minster. Could I just say that Cancer is no respector of person, age or creed and there by the grace of God go many unfortunately it did not pass me by. I hope when the New Assembly goes back to work the first thing they will do is reverse this most despicable decision immediately.

  • Mick, I’d like to read Wright’s version of events. In the meantime, here’s the Minister’s statement.

  • The yellow card has been awarded for the 23 March 2011 5:12pm post.

  • Mick Fealty

    I know you should always speak quietly and carry a big stick, but do you want a Red?

  • Drumlins Rock

    MIck, what’s going on here? has Nevin bee red carded for the posts on this thread?
    As for the issue, surely its an unwritten rule in politics that you can criticize your own party if its an issue directly relating to your constituency? ie. in England your have Conservative MP’s opposing the new rail-lines through their turf.
    I’m sure if it had of been Enniskillen instead of Altnagelvin even Tom might have said it was the wrong decision! Where you imagine the left/right split here totally baffles me!

  • Turgon

    chinadog raises some valid points. However, again the two facts which are overwhelmingly relevant are that we do not have any money and that larger centres are both more efficient and provide better outcomes.

    At its most basic if we build a radiotherapy centre in Londonderry that means we need to stop doing something else: do we want to maybe reduce the number of bypass operations by half? or maybe decide that we do not want to fund renal dialysis over the age of 80? Health is about hard choices: do we want to make such choices?

    Furthermore if people thought that they would get better care by travelling an extra 50 miles and, hence, a better chance of survival would they still prefer to go to the local unit? Those decisions are the ones never put to people: it is always the benefit of local services not the disadvantages which are proclaimed.

    On the issue of travelling of course it is easier to get from Coleraine, Londonderry or Omagh to Altnagelvin than to Belfast. From Enniskillen, however, it is easier to get to Belfast. It is, however, more difficult to get from Enniskillen to Belfast than from Londonderry to Belfast. Should Enniskillen by that logic have a radiotherapy centre? That is the logic of saying Londonderry is too far from Belfast?

  • Mick Fealty

    Point of Information:

    This proposal was in the draft budget (and highlighted at the time by Mr McGimpsey) and then passed in the full budget. So in fact, only SF, Alliance and the DUP actually voted for it.

    Drumlin, no, not just this thread. He’d been warned several times before that a card was coming.

  • The Word

    As some may be aware, I can’t send out confusing signals about such expenditure but I note Nevin’s been having a hard time.

  • chinadog


    While I share some of your views on economies of scale and yes we have too many hospitals some with wards closed and not working to capacity this unit is only an add on to Altnagelvin Hospital as a Radiotherapy Unit. This is a specialised treatment which is geared to the patient’s own situation therefore economies of scale are irrelevant. The current situation at the City Cancer Centre in Belfast is a different scenario it is working well beyond its capacity I know I have been there as a patient and seen for myself the length of time you have to sit and wait for a 10 minute treatment, many days I sat for between one to two hours and I was told by other patients that was not out of the way if there was a lot of patients /machine breakdown or out for service. Treatment and efficiencies should not come into it if anyone in need of this treatment as they are usually sick and vulnerable people expecting them to travel those distances to a unit in Belfast only adds to the ill health and distress of the patient and sometimes their families. If we leave it to Belfast to treat all Radiotherapy patients because we cannot see our way to build this facility the result in the demand for this treatment means the lists for it in Belfast will get longer and longer and cause unknown and far-reaching concerns for everyone

  • Turgon

    I know it sounds harsh and in no way do I dismiss your problems. However, the fact that it is a specialised, tailored treatment in no way makes economies of scale irrelevant.

    Radiotherapy machines are colossally expensive and complex to install. Hence, we need them running at full capacity all the time. The fact that each treatment is so short means that of course we need people waiting. I am sorry but if one could simply walk straight in and get treated within a short time period that would be because the machine would at times be lying idle. We simply cannot afford to have machines like that lying idle: unless we decide say to abandon the likes of dialysis for renal patients over 80; or maybe cancer patients over 80.

    Furthermore the skills issue and the practice effect is vital for all the staff involved in a complex machine and a complex treatment: both for efficiency and for safe and successful treatment for patients.

    In addition the distance argument simply does not work. In mainland GB people do often have to travel further: in North America or say Australia much further. Here in Northern Ireland Fermanagh patients have to travel further than Derry / Londonderry patents. I am sorry that is simply the way it is.

  • J Kelly

    mick the issue that death minister mc gimpsey, this term used by a cancer sufferer in derry today, flagged up pre budget was the revenue cost post the capital investment after 2015, today he went further and pulled the capital investment. a blatantly sectarian act. mick you nailed it earlier a constituency with absolutely no chance of a uu tory seat.

  • chinadog


    You seem to know a lot about this I hope for the Lord’s sake you never have to use a facility like this perhaps if it was you or a close family friend had to travel that journey everyday wyou may change your attitude. I feel sorry for you that you think distance does not matter I have seen what it does to patients who are already overwhelmed with this experience but nevermind you are perhaps less vulnerable than most of us that you will go through life not needing this treatment I hope for Gods sake you don’t because I can assure you from personal experience it is not an easy bed to lie in no matter how good your faith is and you will not change my mind about the capacity of the Cancer Centre in Belfast I know I sat there for 5 weeks Monday to Friday waiting

  • Turgon

    I empathise with your plight. I am sorry if that is trite but I do. However, I respect you and your problems too much to back off simply because of your circumstances. Yes it is highly uncomfortable for you but the reality is that this is the manifestation of a health service where there is not enough money (there is never enough money). If we put a radiotherapy machine in Altnagelvin which service do you think we should close to pay for it? That is actually what you are calling for.

    Also would you rather get less good care locally or go to Belfast with all its delays and annoyances if you had a better chance of survival by that travelling?

    Distance matters but not as much as providing best quality care and providing it efficiently so we can spend the money on other health things.

    You have also not addressed why it is acceptable for Fermanagh patients to have to continue to travel longer distances than Derry / Londonderry patients – distances you regard as unacceptable for Derry / Londonderry patients.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Didn’t an NHS trust over in England solve this problem by setting up a mobile radiotherapy unit ? It was in the back of a big articulated lorry and they could drive it about the place to have radiotherapy in different places from one week to the next.

    Not sure what Nevin was red carded for. I don’t agree with the guy on a lot of stuff but I thought red cards were for people who were being abusive or personal.

  • Drumlins Rock

    “Mr McGimpsey said he would make arrangements to introduce two new radiotherapy machines at Belfast City Hospital over the next two years.” from BBC news

    Turgon/Chinadog, would it be the case that these are extra machines to reduce that waiting time at Belfast, machines that will also help patients from Fermanagh and Newry as well as the NW? It wont reduce the travel time but should remove some of the wait, but at much less cost than Altnagalvin. I do wonder if the NW centre had gone ahead would Tyrone and Fermanagh patients have been sent there too, to make it viable, and thereby actually increasing their travel times.

  • Mick Fealty

    CS, have you a link for that story? I’m not picking up anything relevant on Google.

  • Mick Fealty

    Seems Terry Wright has resigned (according to UTV)…

  • chinadog


    Your incredulity seems to know no bounds. You do not need apologise for my cancer it is not the issue I have no plight my treatment is over.

    The Radiotherapy treatment whether it is given in Londonderry or Belfast will be exactly the same the process and the people who administer it are all specialists in the field so there is no question of substandard treatment given to these patients if the Unit was built and your suggestion that the treatment would be less good is beyond the bounds of sensitivity.

    Regarding what services would I cut perhaps if the bureaucracy and management overload was cut from the system we would have the money to retain and augment current services and much more.

    Regarding the people within driving distance of either centre if that was possible whether it be Londonderry or Belfast my only concern was that they could avail themselves of a Radiotherapy centre nearest to them and that it would be available as I say again in case you do not understand the Cancer centre in Belfast already working to capacity and will not be able to cope with the increasing numbers requiring this treatment so I assume you are saying we just let them die without trying to give them hope shame on you.

  • The Word

    “a blatantly sectarian act.”

    Sure Terry Wright has resigned. Hardly a sectarian issue.

    Terry must have felt let down by the UUP, his own party, who, having failed to notice that the Union had been negotiated away in return for Sinn Fein stopping what they could never win, failed to notice that it was gone.

    You know what they say about things you never realised were missing:- They never really meant anything. Something better came along.

  • Mick Fealty

    Eh? We were talking health (and ropey party platforms)…

  • Cynic2

    Now theres a surprise. People in the Foyle Branch are fighting for an upgrade of a local hospital and disagree with ‘their’ Minister 6 weeks before an election. Who would have thought this might happen!!!!!

    Sorry Mick but this angle on the story is manufactured flim flam (in my view)

    As for the ‘a blatantly sectarian act’ I think that is tripe. NI can only really justify one state of the art center to give patients the best chance of survival. Building one in Derry was clearly a budget negotiating angle anyway. Cynical? Yes. Politics? Yes. Welcome to the real world.

    If I had cancer in Derry it would be great to have a local centre but, even if we did, if I knew my survival chances would be higher in Belfast I would be on the train to the City Hospital at 7 every morning.. And the reality is that one centre of expertise will deliver the best results

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mick, I definitely recall it – it’s a good while ago (10 years?) .. doesn’t seem to show up on google.

  • andnowwhat

    David Nc Narry is on the radio ripping the backs out of Basil Mc Crea and John Mc Allister.

  • Turgon

    The extra machines in Belfast will of course reduce waiting time (though not travel) for everyone and almost certainly at a lower cost. They will also probably be able to be run at higher capacity and hence, more efficiently.

    Your other comment is spot on:
    ” I do wonder if the NW centre had gone ahead would Tyrone and Fermanagh patients have been sent there too, to make it viable, and thereby actually increasing their travel times”

    That is exactly what would have happened: that is the nature of the Trusts set up we have at the moment. Had the Western trust had a radiotherapy centre they would have wanted and (to keep the thing viable) needed the Tyrone and Fermanagh patients.

    It is not the Western Trust’s fault but the Turst boundaries are an idiotic shape and completely fail to take account of the fact that the major road links in Northern Ireland are east – west. The new A5 if it were ever built might help the situation for parts of Tyrone but for much of it and for practically all of Fermanagh the transport links to Belfast will always be better than those to Londonderry. In actual fact for much of Tyrone and all the Fermanagh parts of the Western Turst, one could make a very strong argument for making them part of the Southern Trust.

  • Cynic2

    Why do we need trusts at all?

    We only serve 1.6million people. Spending decisions are distorted by the the fact that the trusts exist rather than being shaped by need. The letting local people have a say argument doesn’t hold water. In this small Province we are all local

  • Aontachtach

    I have no idea if it was the right or wrong decision by McGimpsey so I will not comment on that issue. I’ll leave that up to the people of the North West. I will however comment on the stupid remark by Martina Anderson that “it was a sectarian decision” Are there no Unionists in the area who suffer from Cancer in the North West? She really needs to withdraw that comment. I don’t know McGimpsey personally but he seems to be one of the least sectarian politicians at Stormont. I wonder has he been speaking to his lawyers in the past 24 hours.

  • Turgon

    A fair point re Trusts but in general they work okay. If we had no such thing there might be an excess Belfast-centricity which would not be good. I suspect the best option would probably be three Trusts / units of management, call them what you will: Belfast, Southern and Western. That would result in all being big and the biggest (Belfast) wouild have the other two as something of a counterweight lest it become a blackhole which would suck in everything.

    Some services (such as certain capital intensive parts of cancer services) are probably best provided centrally which, due to the geography of Northern Ireland, effectively means Belfast: unless we want to turn either Craigavon or Antrim into a vast centre which would be fairly illogical.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Playing about on Google Maps a bit, the extra travel time from Altnagalvin to Belfast City is recorded as 1.5 hrs, it drops to less than a hour at the Glenshane Pass, roughly therefore you could say 80-90,000 NW catchment will have a clear reduction in travel time, with about the same number getting some advantage, ie. Coleraine and Omagh, after that the advantage is less than 15 minutes. Bringing Donegal in does make some difference but even then it is only the top half, with much of the county seeing little advantage.

  • Cynic2

    “an excess Belfast-centricity which would not be good”

    The main facilities will always lie within the biggest urban area – not necessarily at Belfast but perhaps Craigavon and Lisburn / Antrim too. Any bias can be covered by the publication of clear information on whats going where and why. There are more than enough happy to JR decisions

  • Barry the Blender

    Turgon seems to know an awful lot about healthcare provision. (One has to wonder how a TUV supporter, who by definition must be stupid, could ever be so informed).

    But he’s pretty much on the mark with this one.
    It’s not a question of whether or not the minister wanted to open the unit, but whether or not his department could afford to.

    Cutting back on waste and inefficiencies is a popular soundbite and sensible aspiration, but I’m not convinced that there is a vast quantity of known waste that could be removed at a penstroke without consequence, providing savings that would equal the cost of Altnagelvin’s radiotherapy unit.

    If you’re looking at resource allocation, I’ve never been convinced that it was the duty of the NHS to provide expensive sexual reassignment surgery to those with gender dysphoria.

    And finally, if the A6/M2 roadlinks had received the investment they deserved, (instead of the border denying A5 vanity project) then perhaps patients from the North West would find access to Belfast services a whole lot easier.

  • Turgon

    I assure you I am indeed stupid. I have made my modest wealth from digging up relics of the tribe of Dan here in Ulster (I am still searching for the lost ark of the covenant on Devenish) as well as finding various fossils from the flood.

    My knowledge of health has come mainly from the fact that I got my doctorate online from the South-east Ards Bible and Catering College. As you can see from the certificate it specificly bans being a GP. Hence, rather than be a GP, I have managed to persuade a number of fellow fundies to allow me to perform operations on them: my personal preference is minor heart operations but I may move on to more major stuff and indeed brain surgery (as well as cutting men’s hair). When I become a self appointed surgeon (I am not quite there yet) I will drop the Doctor and become Mister Turgon. – surgeons drop the Dr and become Mr again apparently – unless they are women in which case they are Miss (even if they are married). Of course when I take power women will not be allowed to work so that will not be a problem.

    I hope this clarifies.

  • Barry the Blender

    I was sure that you must be, as it seems the consensus view of the intellegencia that those who are not Stormont luvvies must be mentally challenged.

    You have discussed your doctorate before as I recall. What was your thesis in?
    As you seem to have ruled out medical doctoring from your activities then it’s safe to assume that the letters MB BCh BAO don’t go after your name, but what letters do ?( I have never heard of the Doctor of Words degree in my limited lifetime).

  • Turgon

    I like to feel that my thesis is my ramblings on this very site. Certainly I feel that that is what has achieved it. To be fair Prof McWilliams of the Bible and Catering college seems to feel that merely reading his web site betimes qualifies one for a doctorate. However, I like to feel that my slugger (and Open Unionism) contributions are what entitles me to my doctorate.

    As such I feel I hold a DSO’T (doctorate of Suigger O’Toole). With my expanding practice of psychosurgery, however, I feel that I have moved beyond a mere MB BCh BAO (the BAO is only from QUB and they have not yet recognised by true genius) and am really more an MD type (MD is a bit like PhD but medical doctors can get it).

    I also feel I deserve to be a Member of a Royal College: maybe Member of the Royal College of Halfwits.

    Hence, my formal title is as follows:
    Dr. Turgon MD DSO’T MRCHW – all self appointed

    Pretty impressive I think you will agree. At least I seem to have more common sense than the UUP’s Dr. Brian Crowe: but then again he probably only has a PhD – and he probably earned it – fool when he could simply have down loaded it. Soon I may appoint myself a DLit, DSc and DD but I feel my self importance is not yet quite up to that.

  • Nunoftheabove

    ….what did Nevin get redded for ?

  • Barry the Blender

    Turgon, I believe BAOs are awarded by all Irish medical schools (QUB, UCC,UCG, UCD and TCD). However being a big TUV bigot I assume you of course don’t acknowledge the Irish Republic’s universities’ right to exist.

  • Crubeen

    This is a political decision based on the DHSSPS’s pitch for more money – cut the project that will attract most adverse publicity for those who oppose the Department’s play for power.

    Health and Social Care is notoriously expensive and inefficient. Without thinking too much I can identify some £60 million that could be cut without detrimental effect to frontline services. One needs to be imaginative to manage any project and as I’ve made clear in other posts there’s a distinct lack of that in both politicians and public servants.


    It’s been asked several times but without answer : why did Nevin get red carded? Other users need and have a right to know and it’s a bit arrogant to keep us in the shade. Sorry but it’s how many of us feel