Plans for high tech diagnostic centre on South Tyneside

Arriving at South Tyneside District Hospital this morning, I am introduced to Julie. She has come for an MRI scan, after suffering a number of symptoms over several months.

Julie may not have been looking forward to the scan itself, but afterwards said it was a huge relief to be on the first step of her treatment journey.

Julie's relieved response is typical of many patients, who have been living with symptoms for some time. Her scan took place in a mobile unit on the grounds of the hospital, but its days now look numbered.

South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust has announced plans for a £10million purpose-built diagnostic centre to be built on-site.

The unit will contain both CT and MRI scanning equipment, as well as a PET-CT scanner, which is used to diagnose patients with suspected cancer.

Having that procedure available on South Tyneside is seen as a breakthrough, as it should mean people will no longer have to travel to either Newcastle or Middlesbrough.

The diagnostic centre has been in the pipeline for some time, but is now seen as playing a critical role in cutting the backlog of operations, which have built up during the pandemic. 

Dr Ben Hall, a consultant radiologist, said: "One of the big backlogs that we have is at the beginning of the patient pathway. We need to get people through the scanners and get them on their pathway through the cancer diagnosis.

"Thankfully most patients won't actually have cancer and we have to identify those that do, right at the beginning and this is the first step on that."

But will speedier diagnosis inevitably mean quicker treatment? It's a question I put to the trust's Chief Executive, Ken Bremner.

He said: "If we don't get it right at the start, everything else that subsequently follows is that much more delayed.

"So I think when we look at the whole pathway together, this is an investment in diagnostics but we hope the other parts of the pathway, getting to the treatment part of this, will be equally quick."

The trust says that while the centre will be based on South Tyneside, it will serve patients across a wider geographical area, including Sunderland and parts of Durham.

The plans must still be given planning permission, but if that is granted, the aim is for work to start on the new centre in the autumn. 

During August members of the public will be able to attend virtual engagement sessions to find out more about the Integrated Diagnostic Centre - to find out more and book a place visit their website.