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New brachytherapy suite opens at Southend Hospital

28 April 2016

Health Care

Thanks to patient power, Southend University Hospital has opened a brand new state-of-the-art brachytherapy suite that will see it being able to offer the best service of its kind in Essex and one of the leading providers in the country.

With such a dedicated theatre it now means that Essex is now one of the elite in the country to boast such facilities.

Brachytherapy is the treatment of cancer using radioactive sources and this new suite brings together all the different types of treatment and all the different ways of treating it in one place, which increases the number of patients who can use it, but more importantly the accuracy of the equipment.

James Green, consultant clinical scientist and head of radiotherapy, said: "We can now treat four or five different types of cancer in as many different ways in our new theatre, this new building allows us to bring all that together for the very first time which is a massive advantage for patients and staff."

The suite offers two types of treatment for prostate cancer, gynaecology, skin cancer and will be offering it for rectal cancer soon. It also has the facility to treat osphosegus and breast cancer.

Five years in the planning, the new £540,000 suite has been paid for by both the hospital and the generosity of local people, the latter donating an amazing £260,000 in legacy donations to its build with a further £140,000 in fundraising paying for all of the state-of-the-art equipment. The project totalling £680,000.

James said: "I cannot thank each and every person who has donated to the cause enough, without their hard work this just not would have been possible. These advances and changes will revolutionise brachytherapy care at Southend Hospital for hundreds of people every year across Essex.

"Our brachytherapy treatment is no longer spread across the trust - as it was previously . We no longer have to go up to theatres it is all done in this one area, self-contained and all under one roof."

It is estimated that the centre will see between 250-300 patients per year and has a greater capacity than previously, which means that an extra session needs to be added to meet demand then it can; ensuring patients are seen much quicker. Something which previously was not possible.

This ensures an efficient flow for patients, with the CT scanner situated opposite, providing them a much smoother service.

Previously patients had to be transported from theatre to the brachytherapy suite, it all now takes place in one place meaning that patients have greater dignity and they don't have to be transported from one part of the hospital to the other. And when they were they had to keep switching trollies and beds during treatment.

James said: "Now our own trolley beds eliminate that issue so patients are on one trolley bed for their entire journey of treatment when they come in and see us. We have three specialist trollies in total which are theatre couches and trollies at the same time which means once the patient is on them they receive all their treatment on them and don't have to switch. Each costs £7,000.

"Modern and inviting is probably the words I would use for the new brachytherapy area, the old one was often referred to as 'the shed'. It did us proud but this is in a totally different league and will be of a huge benefit to patients in terms of receiving their treatment in a much better environment.

"Southend Hospital is a designated cancer centre and we are probably the largest provider of high dose rate (HDR) in the country, even having patients recommended to us by doctors from Harley Street, so it is nice that the centre and staff are getting the recognition that they deserve. The new brachytherapy suite is an amazing addition to our arsenal in the fight against cancer for the people of Essex.

"It is very rare to have a suite like this and you can be sure that we will be making the most of this facility to cut down on waiting times for cancer treatment."

£51,800 legacy to mum enables machine upgrade

A donation of £51,800 from the Foster family has funded an upgrade to the HDR machine that delivers brachytherapy. Previously there were only 18 needles to deliver treatment but now it has been boosted to 30 needles which means both speedier and more effective delivery of treatment.

Alan Foster, from Canvey, said: "My mother had great service from the NHS for various health issues before she died and my father died of cancer. My brothers and I decided to donate our parent's life savings to the hospital where my mother was cared for. When we heard about the Brachytherapy appeal we knew this was an area we wanted our donation to benefit."

James Green added: "We can now give treatment in 30 places simultaneously. That modernises it massively, makes the cancer much easier to treat and because there are more needles it is all done in one hit. That it came from one donation is just brilliant."

And the Foster family generosity hasn't ended there; the gift aid generated from this incredible donation amounted to almost £13k, which the family kindly donated to the hospital's Bosom Pals Appeal.

Staff art work to welcome patients

To help put patients at ease and make it a more welcoming atmosphere a sweeping graphic of beach huts in Thorpe Bay has been added to the partition screens. The cheery image was provided by one of the radiographers in the team, Angharad Baker, 31, from Benfleet.  Of the installation she said: "I'm really proud to have some of my work on display knowing that it will make such a positive difference to the patient experience and improve the environment."