Labors pledges $7m for cancer unit

By Alex Easton alex.easton@northernstar.com.au LISMORE will get its new cancer unit within two years if Labor wins government on November 24, Labor Page candidate Janelle Saffin announced yesterday.

In a joint statement, Ms Saffin and Labor Health spokeswoman Nicola Roxon committed $7 million to stage two of the Lismore Base Hospital redevelopment, which adds a radiation-oncology suite to existing cancer services.

The announcement was hinted at by Labor Leader Kevin Rudd last week, and comes after Nationals Leader Mark Vaile committed an extra $2 million to the unit if NSW began work next year. Mr Vaile said at the time the Coalition had been unable to get details from NSW on what was needed to fast-track the unit.

Ms Saffin said a Federal Labor government would put strict conditions on the extra funding that would require the unit to be finished no later than March, 2010.

However, she expected the unit to be finished and open for business by the end of 2009.

North Coast Area Health Service chief executive Chris Crawford has previously said he expected construction of stage two to take about 18 months. That suggests a start date for the new unit within three months of the new Richmond Clinic's completion in March/April next year.

NSW Minister Assisting the Health Minister (Cancer) Verity Firth said the State Government could meet the conditions attached to the Labor funding.

"This additional $7 million will make it possible to deliver Lismore's integrated cancer centre much earlier than previously scheduled," she said.

Regional Community Watch president Marshall Fittler, who, with The Northern Star, has led the fight for the unit, welcomed the announcement, describing it as a victory for the region.

"I think we can go to bed tonight and sleep a little easier," he said.

However, he said it was a shame it had taken the heat of an election campaign to get the commitment.

"Let's hope we don't have to wait for another Federal election before stage three starts," he said.

Ms Saffin said it had taken a lot of work to find out precisely what was needed to get the upgrade fast-tracked so she could secure a commitment from Federal Labor.

"I feel I have done everything I can do to push this," she said.

Ms Saffin said the cancer unit was a critical project for her, both because of the obvious strength of community feeling on the issue and because of her own history as the North Coast Breast Screening program's founding president.

Ms Saffin paid tribute to Mr% Fittler and other groups involved in the campaign for the unit for what she described as a 'great%effort'.

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