THE building of a much-awaited specialist palliative care facility got under way at Borders General Hospital (BGH) this week.
NHS Borders chairman John Raine officially launched the start of the construction of the £4.1million Margaret Kerr Unit on Tuesday.
He said: “This is the day construction starts in earnest: it’s an exciting milestone.”
Builders expect to finish the facility which will be an extension of an existing ward in February, with patients and their families expected to be using the en-suite rooms, clinical areas, day rooms and family accommodation by spring next year.
Mr Raine added: “This is an important development in the provision of specialist in-patient palliative care in the Borders. The fundraising has been marvellous.”
More than £3.5million has been secured and an appeal, launched last September, has already raised more than £335,000 towards the £1million still required.
“There have been so many trusts and charities that have been generous to the Margaret Kerr Unit,” said Mr Raine, citing the example of the WRVS raising £178,000 in the BGH over the last 16 months. “It is really an exciting time,” he said.
NHS Borders vice chairperson Catherine Duthie, who is also involved in fundraising, said: “Inevitably the recession has an impact but this is simply a case that people understand, quite often from personal experience, and therefore they are giving the unit every possible support.”
Co-trustee Douglas Connell, the late Miss Kerr’s lawyer, said: “It’s fantastic. It’s when you see everything on site you realise this project is really happening.
“Miss Kerr discussed this dream a long time ago. She wanted to see if this could be made a reality, she was very conscious there was nothing like this here. She didn’t really think it would happen but she thought we should all try and give it our best shot. The Borders has risen to the challenge and we are really excited about it becoming a reality.”
The work is exciting, too, for those who will work in the new facility.
Leading nurse specialist for palliative care, Dot Partington said: “It’s a fantastic opportunity, because the current facilities are not up to scratch. It’s a general ward-type setting whereas the new unit will have single rooms with space for relatives to stay over.
“The unit will make the family and patients’ experience much better, and from the nurses’ point of view they will be able to give more individual nursing care.”
Staff nurses Hilary Douglas and Julia Hume echo that view.
Mrs Hume, 46, a mother of two, has been nursing for 10 years.
She said: “It’s really difficult to maintain a peaceful setting within a busy ward. The Margaret Kerr Unit will be a more appropriate setting.
“Hopefully it will give us more time to develop our skills as nurses and enhance what we know and it will also be a better and more appropriate environment for patients with everything consolidated.”
Mrs Douglas, 39, a mum-of-one, has been nursing for five years.
She said: “We are going to be working more closely with families and patients.
“It’s going to be a specialist client base and I think it’s going to enhance our skills and hopefully we are going to become a closer knit team.”
Mrs Partington, who has been working in the Borders for three years and working in palliative care since 1998, said: “I love my job. You have the opportunity to make a difference for patients and their families, whether it’s helping with pain, symptom control or giving emotional or practical support. It’s an opportunity for nurses to be able to provide holistic care.”