Altnagelvin Speech

Mr Beggs: I thank the Members for bringing forward this important motion.  I, too, rise to support the motion.  I recognise publicly the important regional role that Altnagelvin Hospital plays and will play increasingly in the future, not only for the city of Londonderry and the north-west region but, as has been said, its linkages with other hospitals such as Coleraine and the South West Hospital.  There is the opportunity for the mutual benefit of the regional centre, not only for the people of Northern Ireland but for the people of Donegal.  Collectively, a much better service can be provided for everyone.

The Altnagelvin radiotherapy unit was first identified as essential to meet the future needs of the people of Northern Ireland in 2008 when the project was kicked off by the then Minister, Michael McGimpsey.  I understand that capital budget has always been available, but it has been the resource budget that, in previous times, created some difficulty.  We are being told again that it is the resource budget that is causing difficulty today.  There is no point in building such a centre with the resource and not manning it and providing a service.  Therefore, it is essential that the project be taken through to completion. 

In 2011, the outgoing Health Minister expressed his concern about the health budget.  He questioned what had been given and expressed concern that the opening could be put in jeopardy with the budget that had been handed to him.  I agree with other Members that this is not just about the north-west; this is a regional centre, and a centre for Northern Ireland.  Those who are following cancer and health issues will be aware that the cancer centre in Belfast is reaching capacity.  Therefore, unless it is built and operated, there is the possibility that it will even affect me and my family.  I feel passionately that this must proceed on the schedule that was agreed. 

On coming into office in May 2011, Minister Poots advised :

“I have confirmed that I will make the necessary current and capital funding available.”  [Official Report, Bound Volume 64, p42, col 1].

Minister, what has happened since then?

In 2011, it was also indicated by the Finance Minister that the Health Minister would have flexibility in his budget without recourse to the Executive but that he could not bid for in-year monitoring and had to live within his budget.  Since then, inflation in the UK has generally been lower than had been expected.  Yes, I understand that health inflation is always considerably higher than general inflation.  However, during those three and a half years, approximately £300 million of additional money in in-year monitoring has been provided.

My understanding of the 2011 Budget was that that money would not be available to the Health Department, so I am pleased that those who set that Budget agree that there were failings in what they did and are trying to correct it quietly.  We will get better value for money if it is done in a strategic fashion rather than it being dealt with through in-year monitoring, because that mechanism can create a stop/go effect.

It is vital that the Altnagelvin project is put back on track and that the essential staff who will be required to man the units — professionals who will be giving up secure and important jobs elsewhere — feel totally secure about their futures so that they can be attracted to undergo the necessary training to man these posts.  We cannot play about with it; it is essential that this is put to bed quickly and that the necessary funding be found.  I support the Health Minister unequivocally in that that additional money must be found to ensure that this happens.  I am not playing politics.

It would be helpful if the Minister were to clarify something in his letter to the Health Committee in August in which he indicated that —

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker: Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Mr Beggs: The Minister indicated that there would have to be £160 million in savings:  does he have to save all that, or is it £80 million or now £60 million?  It is essential that this project continues not only for the people of the north-west but for everyone in Northern Ireland.

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