Gallery: Colchester General Hospital enters a new era in the battle against cancer

Colchester General Hospital's Radiographers Jackie Cheyne and Clair McKeown are learning the ropes in the new CT Scanner room. Colchester General Hospital's Radiographers Jackie Cheyne and Clair McKeown are learning the ropes in the new CT Scanner room.

Monday, June 9, 2014
5:35 PM

The first patients are expected to walk through the doors to a state-of-the-art radiotherapy centre at Colchester General Hospital today. Health correspondent Lauren Everitt took a behind the scenes tour of the new facility as the finishing touches were made.

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The £25million radiotherapy centre has been a work in progress since August 2012 when Colchester Borough Council gave Colchester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust project planning permission.

Since then, contractors have worked tirelessly to construct the centre at the hospital in Turner Road which will replace the current radiotherapy centre at Essex County Hospital which has three ageing linear accelerators – the machines used to give radiotherapy to cancer patients.

The project, which has been spearheaded by Nick Chatten, the trust’s special projects director, has seen the new centre built between the main hospital building and Gainsborough Wing, with five bunkers for radiotherapy treatment complete with steel doors.

Nick said: “The first sod was cut in September and we always knew it would take as long as it has to get to where we are, being ready to take the first patients on Monday.

“The last few months have been a period of intense activity to complete the final work within the building and to get the linear accelerators ready for patients.

“Patient safety is the key in delivering radiotherapy, and to ensure that the linear accelerators are working absolutely accurately and are properly tested and quality assured is a very lengthy process, especially as we are doing this on four linear accelerators.”

Sonia Tankard, lead for radiotherapy, explained the team had undergone extensive training because the new TrueBeam linear accelerators are several generations on from what is currently at Essex County Hospital.

“We haven’t got technology like this so the staff had to be trained and approved as competent before they are able to use the equipment,” she added.

“The manufacturers will be coming in on the first couple of days of treatment to make sure all the staff are comfortable in what they are doing.”

Explaining the treatment, Sonia, who has worked at the trust since 1989, added: “The machines use kV imaging to verify the position of the patient so we know exactly where we are treating. It also does cone beam CT scanning as well.

“The appointment slots are for 15 minutes and the treatment can vary from just a couple of minutes to 10 minutes depending on the complexity of the treatment.

“It also depends on the type of cancer and the protocol the oncologist decides on.”

The new centre also includes a mould room where patients are fitted with a device to ensure they stay still during the treatment.

“Some patients, such as those with head or neck cancer, have to have their head fixed in position and a mould, almost like a face mask, prepared which has to be worn throughout the course of the treatment.

“That can be one of the more traumatic things for patients to go through. It’s important to communicate with patients to explain fully what is going to happen. We have music in the treatment room and a lit up image on the ceiling for them to focus on.”

The multi-million pound centre houses five treatment sites, of which four will be used initially.

Each treatment room has a separate control room where the medical team can look at the patient on TV screens while the treatment is delivered. Nick added: “We have built in some expansion capacity for the future. When you are building a site like this it is important to future-proof, and we’ve done that.”

When the unit is fully functional, there will be more than 50 staff working in the department who will be treating between 140 and 150 patients every day.

The trust is planning a gradual transfer of patients from Essex County Hospital, which has delivered radiotherapy since 1950, to Colchester General Hospital and the aim is to close the unit at Essex County Hospital by the end of July.

The new centre has been funded by the trust, and Nick added: “We have outgrown the Essex County site and it was always planned to centralise the service at Colchester General Hospital.”

Seven patients have been booked into the new radiotherapy centre on Monday.

Sonia said: “Gradually we will take more patients and build up the activity here and drop it off at Essex County.

“It’s going to be quite difficult to staff both sites while we’re making the transition.”

The centre also has a CT scanner to identify with precision where a cancer is located, an orthovoltage unit, which will be used to administer radiotherapy to treat cancers of the skin and superficial tissues, and a bracytherapy unit, which will be used for specialist radiotherapy treatments, implanting short-lived radioisotopes into body cavities to treat some gynaecological cancers.

There is also a refreshment area, information centre, landscaped garden and new car parking which will include dedicated radiotherapy patient parking.

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