WATCH: Olympian opens new Alnwick oncology unit

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Olympian and Commonwealth Games Silver-medallist Laura Weightman has officially opened Alnwick’s new state-of-the-art oncology day unit which is benefiting people in the area.

Laura, a 1,500-metre runner from Lesbury, unveiled the plaque at the unit at Alnwick Infirmary this afternoon meeting patients who have been treated in the unit, staff and fundraisers who helped set it up.

Patient Christine Trench with Laura Weightman at the opening of Alnwick Oncology Day Unit.

Patient Christine Trench with Laura Weightman at the opening of Alnwick Oncology Day Unit.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust’s unit opened in September, meaning patients do not have to travel further afield for treatment.

It is based in the former Coquet Ward at the hospital with the area undergoing a refurbishment of more than £200,000 to include the latest equipment and the best facilities for patients.

The nurse-led service operates on a Friday however there are plans to extend to two days later in the year. Before the unit opened, patients requiring chemotherapy and supportive treatments faced a journey out of the area to Wansbeck or North Tyneside general hospitals.

Laura, 23, said: “After such a busy summer I was delighted to come home and do something in my local community and support a facility which is really helping people in the area.

“There isn’t a family that hasn’t been touched by cancer and being able to receive this treatment much closer to home is so much better for patients and their families.

“I’m so impressed with the facilities here and it has been really good to meet patients and hear how it is benefitting them to have their treatment here in Alnwick, it is a credit to the community.”

Gill Starkey, lead cancer nurse at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are delighted that Laura was able to officially open our new unit here in Alnwick and we would like to congratulate her on her amazing achievements this summer.

“Everyone at the trust was so pleased when the unit opened in September and we were able to deliver on our commitment to provide this service in Alnwick to benefit our patients in rural areas and deliver care as close to people’s homes as possible.

“It also meant that, for the first time, people right across Northumberland and North Tyneside had local access to chemotherapy and supportive treatments, something that we’re really proud of.

“The response we’ve had so far to the new unit has been overwhelming. All the feedback from patients has been extremely positive with people praising the care they’ve received and saying that it’s so much better for them not to have to travel out of the area.

“All the team have worked extremely hard to provide an environment that not only gives the utmost privacy and dignity but is welcoming and doesn’t look like a traditional hospital ward. We are really pleased that patients have been particularly impressed with this element and told us that it puts them at ease and improves their experiences of having their treatment with us.”

Laura met patients who have benefitted from the service being in Alnwick including Christine Trench.

Christine, 57, had been travelling to Wansbeck General Hospital every three weeks for almost a year to have herceptin treatment having been diagnosed with breast cancer last year. She has had her final two sessions at the unit in Alnwick.

Christine, a mother-of-two from Lower Barresdale in Alnwick, said: “The unit in Alnwick is absolutely brilliant. It’s really lovely and has such a calming atmosphere - not like a hospital ward at all.

“The care I received at Wansbeck hospital was first-class however I suffer from travel sickness so the journey there was difficult for me.

“I was therefore delighted when I was able to receive my treatment here in Alnwick, just a short distance from my home. It relieved the stress associated with the journey and really improved the overall experience of receiving care.

“For patients now, this unit in Alnwick is a Godsend and I’m so pleased I was able to benefit from it.”

Representatives of communities and individuals in the Alnwick area which raised in excess of £30,000 over the last four years to help set up the unit attended the opening.

The staff who care for patients receiving chemotherapy have undergone specialist training to provide this service in Alnwick and will continue to work at the trust’s other oncology units in order to maintain their skills and further develop the service.

The unit at Alnwick is the trust’s fifth specialist oncology unit, with the others at Berwick Infirmary and Wansbeck, Hexham and North Tyneside general hospitals.

The opening comes as Northumbria Healthcare came sixth in a league table measuring patient experience among people receiving care for cancer across England.

For the fourth successive year, the trust was named in the top 10 for the survey, a ringing endorsement for the specialist teams who care for people in hospital.

The oncology day unit builds on the ambulatory care services already provided at Alnwick Infirmary which prevent patients having to travel to a general hospital for their treatment. These services enable patients to have certain treatments locally, such as blood transfusions and some other intravenous medications, without the need for an overnight stay in hospital or travelling further afield.