Popstar Joe McElderry officially opened a new chemotherapy unit to improve lives of cancer patients in County Durham.
The South Shields-born X Factor winner unveiled a commemorative plaque at the Woodland Unit in Shotley Bridge Community Hospital, in front of staff, patients and their families before taking a tour of the £500,000 facility.
Users of the unit, which overlooks the Derwent Valley, can have chemotherapy as well as blood transfusions and supportive therapies.
It opened at the end of December, giving people in Derwentside easier access to services, some of which were only available at the chemotherapy unit at the University Hospital of North Durham. County Durham and Darlington NHS Trust appealed for help in choosing a name and selected Woodlands, which was suggested by Joan Dodds from Stanley.
Joe McElderry said: “I’m delighted to be able to open the new Woodlands Unit at Shotley Bridge Community Hospital. Cancer affects so many families, so it’s great that this excellent facility is now available to them.”
Manager Sandra Gaskill added: “Having this new unit is really all about providing patients with the services they need closer to home. Some patients may still need to be treated at Durham for some of their treatment, but for many coming here is much easier.
“The reaction to the new facility has been fantastic. Many people with long-term illnesses are often fatigued by their condition and their treatment, so for some travelling to Durham every week was very difficult. Now they can come here and it’s a lot easier for them and their relatives. It’s made a big difference to their quality of life.”
Julie Dalton, 54, from Annfield Plain, diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, now has chemo at the unit instead of North Durham. The mum-of-two is a retired nurse who worked at Shotley Bridge and Durham hospitals for over 30 years. She said: “The staff at both hospitals are lovely but I found it very busy at the chemo unit at Durham. At first the chemo made me feel tired as well, so travelling down there added to that.
“The new unit is lovely, it’s really well laid out, there are rooms for different treatments and it’s so comfortable.”
Fundraisers also donated money to the unit to buy more equipment. Among them were the family of mum-of-three Kelly Kasher from Lanchester, who died in March last year of pneumonia after battling lymphoma and leukaemia aged just 27. Since her death, they have raised £5,400.
Kelly’s sister Stephanie Watson, 25, was at the opening along with Kelly’s two daughters Beth, nine, and Abby, six, who were delighted with their Joe McElderry autographs. Steph said: “We think that Kelly would have loved the centre and would be very proud of the equipment that has been bought in her memory.
“I used to go with her to her chemo appointments in North Durham and she used to say how it was a bit boring and there was nothing to do there other than sit and think about what was wrong with her.
“It was quite emotional coming here and seeing the equipment for the first time and there is a plaque in the room that says how we all miss her smile, as she kept smiling throughout her illness.”
Patients now have a comfortable lounge area to watch TV and socialise and there are also quiet rooms and a therapy room for holistic treatments like massage.
Staff also do blood transfusions and treatments for other local patients with long-term illnesses from the local community.