Health Minister Edwin Poots said on Monday:
Making a decision on the proposed radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin was my first priority as Health Minister. It was vital that I took the time to look at all the evidence properly to reach the right decision for the right reasons. I have now thoroughly reviewed all the relevant information and I have decided to make the necessary funding – both current and capital – available. This amounts to £56million being made available to build the unit and an estimated additional £9million being made available over current service provision for running costs.
While not mentioned in his statement in the Assembly, in media interviews afterwards, Edwin Poots spoke of how he had been moved (perhaps swayed) by the evidence of cancer patients he had met and their experiences of travelling up and down from the north west for treatment.
While the Irish government is contributing €19m, it is not clear from the minister’s statement where the rest of the money is coming from. Money doesn’t grow on trees.
Unless Sammy Wilson won a rollover lottery as well as a seat in East Antrim, the NI Executive’s finances are no less stretched in May than they were in April.
What has been missing in all the coverage of this inevitable and widely welcomed decision is a discussion about where the savings can be found. The Belfast Telegraph explained:
Questioned by Assembly Members, Mr Poots also gave an assurance that other parts of the health service will not be affected by his green light — just seven weeks after his predecessor, Ulster Unionist Michael McGimpsey, warned he did not have the money to staff and equip the centre.
Fewer expensive cancer drugs? Delaying other hospital building projects? Fewer ambulance stations? Higher hospital parking charges? Fewer staff?
Something has to give. While the £40 or so million capital budget needed to build the unit may already have been earmarked by the previous minister, the annual running costs of £9m are unlikely to be covered just by a thorough reading of the McKinsey report and mere efficiency savings. Surely lots of other schemes and plans were already hoping to use that money, and something will have to give?