The new cancer centre at Mater Dei Hospital will cost more than double what had been forecast because the project had grown since the last budget speech, according to the government.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said on Sunday the Specialised Oncology Centre would cost €40 million, a figure much higher than that mentioned in the 2009 budget, when it had been put at €24 million.

"There have been very significant developments to this project since the budget speech," a government spokesman said, adding that the project would be partly funded by the EU. However, given that the funds were not yet secured, no further details could be revealed at this stage, he said.

The spokesman said the project included the introduction of new technologies. "For example, the original idea was to have a three-bunker facility (to host radiotherapy equipment). The new facility will now have a four bunker suite... It will also allow for expansion when required," he said.

The spokesman was not in a position to outline more changes that had pushed up the cost, adding these would be highlighted at the official launch of the project that was expected to be up and running by 2012.

Once built, all cancer treatment facilities within the hospital, including the facilities for children and young people, will be moved to the centre. It will cover about 15,000 square metres and have four primary areas: in-patients, out-patients, diagnostic and treatment areas, and support services. There will be 74 in-patient beds that will include 32 oncology beds, 16 for palliative care that focuses on reducing suffering, 10 for children and adolescents and 16 haematology beds to treat cancer in the blood.

The government had originally planned to transfer cancer services from Boffa Hospital to Zammit Clap Hospital but eventually decided to build the new centre at Mater Dei. It will be built on a clear piece of land across the road from the outpatients' car park.

"The site at Mater Dei Hospital offered much greater potential in terms of expansion and the new centre will now integrate several services that are now residing elsewhere. The new centre will also provide new services such as those specific to adolescents and young persons," the spokesman explained.

Besides, he added, Mater Dei allowed for the fulfilment of all aspects of the medical brief with increased potential for longer-term planning and possible business potential.

"The topology of the Mater Dei site itself also allowed for a more patient-centric design in terms of open spaces, environmental considerations and other building services and related infrastructure," he said.

Research shows that 1,250 Maltese people develop come type of cancer every year. About 700 deaths are directly attributed to cancer that is responsible for about 25 per cent of Malta's annual death rate.

The cancer rate is expected to increase, especially given Malta's aging population. The good news is that life expectancy of patients living with cancer is likewise expected to rise due to earlier and more effective diagnosis. The new centre will aim to improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, the spokesman said.

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