WORK on a new radiotherapy unit at Swindon’s Great Western Hospital could start later this year.

It follows the approval of a multi-million pound loan from the department of health, enabling hospital chiefs to get started on the works. Construction should start in the second half of 2019.

The new radiotherapy unit will save cancer patients a gruelling 70-mile round trip for treatment at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital. Around 700 patients a year make the trip along the A420 from Swindon and Wiltshire.

Welcoming news of the government loan, GWH chief executive Nerissa Vaughan said: “This marks the final major milestone in our efforts to provide this essential service locally so that patients will no longer have to travel to and from Oxford for daily treatment.”

Last month, it was announced GWH charity Brighter Futures had hit its £2.9m radiotherapy target. The money will be used to help kit-out the unit with two state-of-the-art radiotherapy machines, which use radio waves to kill cancerous cells in the body.

Ms Vaughan added: “None of this could have been possible without the supports of thousands of fundraisers across the local community and it’s great we can now move to the next phase.”

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust will run the new unit in Swindon. Last year, the NHS trust applied for a huge loan from the department of health, understood to be for around £13m, to help build the unit. It followed financial difficulties at OUH, which agreed a plan with regulators earlier this year to get the hospital trust back on track.

Dr Claire Hobbs, clinical director for oncology and haematology at OUH, said: “It has long been our ambition to be able to deliver our expert cancer care nearer to home for people using our services in Wiltshire and Swindon.

“We have been working with our partners at Brighter Futures Charity and Great Western Hospital to build a satellite radiotherapy unit in Swindon.

“We want to reduce the amount of travel for people locally in Swindon and Wiltshire who are receiving cancer treatment. We are really pleased to be able at last to announce that our negotiations with the Department of Health are nearly complete and we hope to be able to start work this year.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of Swindon and Wiltshire for their generosity in supporting the appeal to help us build the unit and for their patience during a process that has taken longer than we would all have hoped.”

Pressure kept up on ministers

Robert Buckland, South Swindon MP, said he had been in regular contact with the Health Secretary and government finance ministers to get the radiotherapy loan the green light.

“This is the news we’ve all been waiting for,” he said. “We can get on with construction and open the much needed radiotherapy unit that so many people in our community have worked so hard to achieve.”

'It's brilliant news for Swindon'

Thousands of Swindon residents helped Brighter Futures hit its £2.9m radiotherapy appeal target.

Last night, one welcomed news that work on the cancer unit could begin soon.

Nikki Gilbert knows better than most how important it is to get radiotherapy treatment based in Swindon, rather than Oxford.

When the 42-year-old mum from Stratton was diagnosed with breast cancer, her first thought was that she might die and her children might lose their mum.

Nikki battled six cycles of radiotherapy and three weeks of radiotherapy before going on to raise hundreds for the appeal. She said of the new unit at GWH: “It’s brilliant news for Swindon. Given the size of the town I’m surprised it has taken so long. Saving people that horrible journey to Oxford and back will make a massive difference for people.”

The appeal hit its target in December. Brighter Futures boss Catherine Newman said: "We've been amazed by the incredible people who have raised money for the campaign."