WORK is under way on the £18m radiotherapy unit at Swindon’s Great Western Hospital.

A socially-distanced celebration with GWH’s Brighter Futures, Oxford University Hospitals and construction company John Sisk & Son Ltd marked the start of work.

The new centre will save an estimated 13,000 patient journeys to Oxford every year, alongside anxiety, stress and precious time. 

It will be built on the GWH site and is an expansion of OUH NHS Foundation Trust’s radiotherapy service, currently provided solely from the Churchill Hospital in Oxford.

OUH has invested £18.4 million in this project.

The project has been an aspiration for clinicians, health planners and local people for many years and this is another milestone it has marked. 

A Brighter Futures appeal raised £2.9m to help kit out the centre and it reached its target in 2018 after receiving a £175,000 grant from Swindon Rotary clubs.

And the Swindon Advertiser has followed the campaign since it was launched five years ago and its readers have helped raise thousands of pounds.

Kevin McNamara, chief executive at GWH, said: “For years to come, this building will stand as a symbol of the spirit of Swindon and the thousands of people across the wider community who stepped forward and made it possible through fantastic fundraising efforts and a community spirit like no other. 

“This is a fantastic milestone to celebrate in a very difficult year. A year that has reminded us all of the importance of the NHS and the incredible, life-changing and life-saving care, provided to thousands of people every day.”

Catherine Newman, director of fundraising at Brighter Futures, said: “Over the three-and-a-half years that the appeal was running, we were overwhelmed with the response from thousands of people in Swindon and the surrounding areas who came together to do some truly amazing things for our charity.

“We were also incredibly grateful to receive donations totalling over £300,000 from the Rotary Clubs of Swindon and surrounding areas as well as a gift from the International Rotary. All the money raised will fund key clinical equipment in the new centre. Thank you to everyone who supported our appeal, and we must not forget those who are sadly no longer with us but with us in spirit.”

Jason Dorsett, chief finance officer at OUH and Dr Claire Hobbs representing the Radiotherapy Service joined Kevin McNamara and Catherine Newman as they were shown around the site by Ajaz Shafi, managing director UK South of John Sisk and Son.

The five were shown progress so far and Claire Hobbs, the person who had worked on the project the longest, was asked to put a symbolic spade in the ground.

Dr Claire Hobbs, formerly head of radiotherapy at OUH and representing the service, said: “I am so delighted to be here today. My colleagues and I have been working on delivering this service for many years now. It is so exciting to see the beginnings of where our new services will be offered. We have always wanted our patients to be able to be cared for nearer to home.”

The Radiotherapy Centre feeds into exciting plans to continue to upgrade and expand a whole range of services on the GWH site through the Trust’s Way Forward Programme.

This will include an expanded and co-located urgent and emergency care service and a centre of excellence for rehabilitation.

Jason said: “Bringing radiotherapy to Swindon has been a long-standing priority for the local NHS. So many people have been working for so long on this, it is great to see real progress. The difference this new facility will make to local cancer patients and their families is so important. The reduction in travel time means less stress and anxiety and more time to do other things.”