Exclusive peek at new Margaret Kerr Unit

As fundraisers for the Margaret Kerr Unit Appeal close in on its £1million target, and with only two months to go before its expected opening in January, TheSouthern was this week given an exclusive preview of the Borders General Hospital’s new in-patient specialist palliative care unit.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” enthused appeal chairman James Marjoribanks on site. “It makes me a very proud Borderer to see this. The people in the Borders embraced the appeal, and gave generously.

“This, I feel, would only have been possible in the Borders, because of the good people here. We’ve a community spirit that’s second to none – other health boards are envious of what we can achieve.”

Three quarters of the £4.113million needed to complete the building was donated by individuals, charities and trusts – notably £720,000 from the Miss Margaret Kerr Charitable Trust, £750,000 from Macmillan Cancer Support, and £350,000 from The Robertson Trust. A public appeal for the final million was launched in September 2011, and last week, in just over a year, Borderers had raised an amazing £900,000 – with only £100,000 to go.

“The unit will make a big difference,” Mr Marjoribanks added. “It’s more fit for purpose, more patient and family friendly.”

Building work began on April 3 this year, with an estimated construction schedule of 40 weeks. On TheSouthern’s visit on Monday, officials confirmed BAM Construction are on target to hand over the building to NHS Borders on November 23, with the Margaret Kerr Unit expected to admit its first patients in mid-January.

The original facility – a combined stroke and palliative care ward – received 200 admissions a year, with an average stay of two weeks.

“The new unit will give patients more privacy, space, and family time, and really improve their quality of life,” explained Samantha Dunlop, a clinical nurse specialist in palliative care. “It’s been long overdue.”

Palliative care describes the care given when cure is impossible, and the unit is designed with the physical and psychological needs of patients and their families in mind.

Each of the eight, spacious bedrooms includes a shower/wet room, pull-down beds for relatives to stay overnight, and access to the landscaped, private garden, for wheelchairs and hospital beds. Each patio area is divided by a trellis of plants, and earth mounds to obscure the passing traffic – but not the view of the fields and Eildons beyond.

Essential equipment, such as oxygen bottles and hoists, are discreetly hidden.

“We are trying to minimise the effect caused by patients needing all this equipment,” said Dr Annabel Howell, a speciality doctor in palliative care, “because it’s something their families can struggle with.”

An extra, ensuite double room for relatives to sleep is a “massive step forward,” adds fundraising manager Clare Oliver. “If people are at the end of their lives, relatives want to be there.”

The new relatives’ room overlooks a courtyard “for peaceful reflection,” Dr Howell added, “and a bit of normality in the midst of everything.”

Patients can find travelling by ambulance stressful, she explained, so service corridors connect the new palliative care unit to the refurbished Borders Stroke Unit, and to the hospital’s other services. The new stroke ward, with increased space for patients, will also be opened in mid-January.

The unit’s two lounges will be decorated with artwork by five commissioned Border artists, and a piece of art called ‘Lasting Impressions’.

Open days are planned for Thursday and Friday, December 13 and 14 for the public to look around.

“But we haven’t finished yet, there’s still a lot of fundraising to go,” said Ms Oliver, encouraging people to keep their donations coming.

An Advent Ball in aid of the new unit is sold out, but raffle tickets are still available and can be bought at the BGH and in shops in Kelso.