A NEW chemotherapy suite to be based at Alnwick Infirmary will make a ‘huge difference’ to the lives of cancer patients and help their families, the Gazette has been told.
The Coquet Ward at Alnwick Infirmary was closed in March last year, leaving just one ward with 30 beds for patients. The closure caused concern that it was the beginning of the end for the hospital.
But now a nurse-led chemotherapy service is to be put in place thanks to a new £1million pharmacy unit at Wansbeck General Hospital.
The pharmacy has the capacity to supply chemotherapy drugs to Alnwick, meaning patients who currently travel to Wansbeck or Berwick Infirmary will be able to receive treament much closer to home.
Debbie Allen, lymphoedema nurse at HospiceCare North Northumberland, said: “This service will be hugely important to people undergoing treatment.
“We have patients at the Berwick hospice who use the service up there and it has made a big difference to them.
“It can only be a positive thing. And it will make a huge difference to patients and their families and carers.
“When people are suffering from the side effects of treament and feeling sick, they don’t want to be having to travel a 60-mile round trip.
“When you are having to deal with treatment anyway, you really don’t want to be travelling such distances so this will take a massive chunk out of people’s journey times.
“And it is great that the Infirmary is being used in a positive way. The service at Berwick has been going two years and works really well and the Alnwick one will be the same. It is going to benefit everyone. It is fantastic.”
Alnwick town and county councillor Gordon Castle added: “It is fantastic news. It means that people who are already going through a distressing time won’t have to travel as far for treatment.
“And it also helps to secure the future of the hospital. It really is excellent news. It is very important that we have treatment facilities as close as possible.
“It is a very positive move, I only wish they could do the same for dialysis patients.”
It is hoped that the chemotherapy unit will be opened later this year, after modification work is carried out.
Elisabeth Haddow, chairman of the former Alnwick Area Health Forum, said: “When we ran the health forum, it was mooted that this would happen.
“We were concerned about Alnwick as Berwick and Hexham were always highlighted and Alnwick seemed to be left behind.
“But this is really good news. When people are poorly they will only have to go to Alnwick and that is massive progress.
“I’m very pleased that it will be there and it will be a welcome service for cancer patients. When my husband was ill with cancer, he had excellent treatment at Wansbeck but it would have been easier to have it in Alnwick.
“I hope this helps to secure the future of Alnwick Infirmary, but my worry is that we still need beds.”
Steve Russell, director responsible for community hospitals at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are committed to providing services closer to patients’ homes and the completion of the new sterile pharmacy unit at Wansbeck General Hospital means that we are a step closer to having a chemotherapy service at Alnwick Infirmary.
“The new sterile unit has the capacity to supply cancer drugs to a new unit in Alnwick and will produce drugs for our other units across the Trust.
“When up and running, the Alnwick chemotherapy unit will be of great benefit to people living in north Northumberland as it will save patients travelling to Wansbeck General Hospital for treatment. People in the Berwick area have benefited greatly since the chemotherapy unit opened at Berwick Infirmary.
“Over the last few months, much work has been done to prepare for the unit at Alnwick and one nurse has completed her training. More work, including modifications to the area where the unit will be located, needs to be carried out, however we expect the unit to open later this year.”