Topping out ceremony for £25m radiotherapy centre

13 May 2013

A topping out ceremony will be held on Friday to mark the completion of the main structure of the £25m radiotherapy centre being built at Colchester General Hospital.

Radiotherapy Manager Sonia Tankard and Head of Radiotherapy Physics Mark Porter will hoist a branch of a fir tree to the highest point of the two-storey building - a traditional construction industry ritual to bring luck.

As part of the ceremony, Dr Sally Irvine, Chair of Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust, will screw in the last section of cement board on the building parapet.

Dr Irvine said: "The topping out ceremony marks a significant milestone in the development of this major project, which is on schedule and within budget.

"The radiotherapy department at Essex County Hospital continues to provide an outstanding service but it has long been this organisation's plan to centralise cancer services on the site of Colchester General Hospital.

"The new centre will include the most up-to-date equipment and is tremendous news for the people of north east and mid Essex for whom we provide radiotherapy services."

Work on the site began shortly after planning permission was given in August last year and is due to be completed in December. The first patients will have radiotherapy at the new centre in April next year.

Among the guests invited to the ceremony are members of the radiotherapy staff, MPs from north east and mid Essex and representatives of service users, North East Essex and Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Groups and local authorities.

Dr Irvine and Sean Purtill, Contracts Manager at Interserve Construction Limited, the Trust's partner in the project, will make short speeches.

The new development will replace the current radiotherapy centre at Essex County Hospital, which opened in 1964 and which has three ageing linear accelerators (linacs) - the machines used to give radiotherapy to cancer patients.

In 2012/13, more than 1,800 patients - including patients from mid Essex as well as north east Essex - received more than 24,000 treatments from the latest equipment and specialist healthcare staff. This number is set to grow as the use of radiotherapy develops.

As well as state-of-the-art linear accelerators, the centre will also have an orthovoltage unit, which will be used to administer radiotherapy to treat cancers of the skin and superficial tissues, and a brachytherapy unit, which will be used to give a specialist radiotherapy treatment that involves implanting short-living radioisotopes into body cavities to treat certain cancers, including gynaecological cancers.

The centre is located between the hospital's main building and Gainsbrough Wing. A two-storey corridor will link it to both.

Before the new centre becomes operational, the Trust's other cancer services, including inpatient beds and the chemotherapy department, will also have been transferred from Essex County Hospital to Colchester General Hospital.

The Essex County Hospital site, which dates back almost 200 years, is extremely cramped and has parking spaces for about only 30 patients. The new centre, two miles away at Colchester General Hospital, will have designated free parking for radiotherapy patients who, typically, have to attend hospital five days a week for a period of several weeks.

It has long been accepted by professional bodies that it is in the best interests of patients to co-locate cancer services with other acute hospital services, such as emergency and critical care. The relocation of services will also result in greater operational efficiency.

The radiotherapy centre will be the single biggest capital investment in the Health Service in Colchester since Colchester General Hospital was built in the mid-1980s.

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