The New Radiotherapy Unit at Altnagelvin Hospital
In April 2008, the Western Health and Social Care Trust (Western Trust) was asked to develop a business case for the establishment of a radiotherapy facility at Altnagelvin Hospital. The new service would increase radiotherapy capacity in Northern Ireland which was anticipated to exceed demand by 2015. The service would improve patient travelling times by providing more locally accessible services. The announcement also recognised the opportunity for cross-border cooperation with the Republic of Ireland as part of the new service. The Full Business Case (FBC) was developed and submitted to the Department of Health Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) in February 2014, and approval was provided in June 2014.
In July 2015 we asked the team behind the new unit to answer a few questions
Do you have an exact date it will be opening?
At present the Radiotherapy building and service is progressing in terms of the construction and the recruitment of key staff. It is envisaged that the building works will be completed in summer 2016, and will open in autumn 2016.
Will the unit be fully staffed when it opens or will it open with some services and more to be added later?
It is our plan to open with a full complement of staff for the provision of services, however we anticipate that patient services will be increased over a short time period before reaching full capacity.
What type of equipment will you have?
The new centre will be located beside and connected to the existing Cancer Unit (Sperrin Suite) at Altnagelvin Hospital. The building size will be approximately 10,000 sqm. The facility will contain:
1) Three Varian TrueBeam Slim linear accelerators, all with 4D CBCT and advanced imaging capabilities and two with PerfectPitch six DOF robotic couches.
2) An additional treatment suite to allow expansion and a site footprint to accommodate a total of six linear accelerators, if required in the future.
3) Siemens SOMATOM Definition AS Open 64 slice wide-bore CT simulator with advanced 4D and artefact reduction technology for radiotherapy treatment planning.
4) Siemens SOMATOM Definition AS Open 64 slice wide-bore CT scanner and Siemens MAGNETOM Aera 48 MRI Scanner to support cancer services, including radiotherapy treatment planning.
5) Varian ARIA Oncology Management System to underpin a paperless working environment. A test system installed to facilitate the development of clinical processes has recently been upgraded to ARIA 13.6. This is the first system of this generation in the island of Ireland and one of the first in Europe.
6) Varian Eclipse Treatment Planning System.
7) Thirteen inpatient beds for single and combination radiotherapy patients combined with the existing 14 oncology/haematology inpatient beds.
8) An expansion to the existing chemotherapy facilities.
What radiotherapy services will you be offering?
Radiotherapy treatments will be delivered for patients with Breast, Urology, Gynaecological, Lung, Gastro-intestinal, Head and Neck, Non-Melanoma Skin and Haematology cancers. 4D adaptive radiotherapy will be available using the latest image fusion and automated segmentation techniques for treatment planning and VMAT and FFF delivery techniques. All treatment planning for radiotherapy patients will be carried out on-site at Altnagelvin by the Medical, Therapeutic Radiography and Medical Physics staff.
How many patients will you be able to accommodate?
The Radiotherapy centre will increase radiotherapy accessibility and will have the capacity to provide approximately 23,000 treatment fractions of external beam radiotherapy annually. In terms of new patients per year, this equates to approximately 1,100 Northern Ireland patients and 400 Republic of Ireland patients.
All Western Trust area patients from Londonderry, Limavady, Strabane, Omagh and Enniskillen areas, and patients from the northern sector of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust area, i.e. Coleraine, Moyle and Ballymoney areas, will access radiotherapy services at Altnagelvin Hospital. In population terms, this will be approximately 417,000 people by the year 2016. However, approximately 10% of this population will continue to access more specialist treatment at the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre at Belfast City Hospital.
In the Republic of Ireland, patients from north to mid-Donegal, i.e. the catchment population of Letterkenny General Hospital, will also receive radiotherapy treatment at Altnagelvin. This is a population of approximately 110,000 people with about 10% of this population continuing to receive more specialist treatment at National Treatment Centres in the Republic of Ireland.
You mention that you will provide a ‘patient centric, holistic cancer treatment service’. Can you explain what this means?
It is our vision to provide innovative and compassionate holistic cancer care for patients. We will deliver safe, high quality cancer care to our patients at the right time, in the right place. We will achieve this by empowering staff and patients within a culture of continuous innovation. We want to develop and provide a service that meets the needs of our patients, therefore it is important that we listen to and learn from peoples past experiences and use every opportunity to improve services for the good of patients.
For a visual demonstration of what the unit will look like
If you follow this link, it will take you to a short video ‘fly through’ of the new unit. This will give you an architect’s insight into what the facility will look like when construction is complete.