A NEW radiotherapy unit could open as early as 2016 at the Great Western Hospital after health bosses in Oxfordshire backed plans for a dedicated service in Swindon.

Cancer patients in and around Swindon currently have to travel to Oxford’s Churchill Hospital to use one of five machines available.

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust’s (OUHT) board yesterday took a further step towards the creation of the new unit, which would help ease demand and allow Swindon residents to receive treatment much closer to home.

Members are expected to approve detailed plans later this month.

The OUHT would pay up to £14.7million for the unit but £3 million would be needed from fundraising across Swindon and Wiltshire.

Latest figures show 95.4 per cent of the 300 people who start treatment each month are usually seen within 31 days of referral. The target is 94 per cent.

Oxford’s machines are used 99 per cent of the time and OUHT became the first in the country to open radiology seven-days-a-week last June.

An increasingly older population - more at risk of cancer – and complex technologies that take longer to administer – have driven demand but also pressure on staff and the hospital over the years in the region.

A trust report said the new service would “substantially improve the patient experience” for Swindon residents.

Tracey Kidman-Pepper, of Marlborough Road, is one of thousands of patients who underwent radiotherapy in Oxford after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008.

Now in remission, the 40-year-old said receiving care in Swindon would have helped alleviate the huge pressure she was under at the time.

“I had to drive one hour each way to Oxford for ten minutes of treatment,” she said.

“Obviously it was a time of immense stress and it would have been much better to be treated close to home. People will be able to drive up the road and be able to do something else with the rest of their day.

“I had two small children and I had to go to Oxford everyday for six weeks. My mum lived with us for six weeks to help.

“It’s an intense treatment and it puts a lot of pressure on you. If you have kids or other commitments it’s not ideal.”

She added: “I was a private patient but if you are on the NHS they run a taxi service which takes all day because they have to pick everybody up. It will make a big difference.”

Radiotherapy uses high energy radiation to treat cancer.

A Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundations Trust spokesman said: “We continue to work closely with Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust to bring radiotherapy to Swindon.”