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A new scanner that can produce more detailed images for easier and faster diagnoses is up and running at West Cumberland Hospital. 

It’s an investment of more than £750,000 and is a far more sophisticated machine than has been available in west Cumbria before with better diagnosis capability.

The new scanner can take more detailed images and brings care closer to home for people who live in west Cumbria. This type of scan was previously only available in Carlisle.

Maxine Mitchell is the Chief Clinical Technologist, Medical Physics at North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust. She explains the benefits of the scanner:

“The scanner is a hybrid imaging system which means it is able to take two different types of images. The first part of the scan involves imaging the distribution of a radioactive agent.  This is a way of finding out the function of the body system if necessary in 3D. That means the images can tell you how something is working and if it is working how you expect it to be. The other part of the scan is a CT scan which shows you an anatomical image of the body part. This allows you to see if the part of the body you are analysing looks like it is supposed to.”

Using the two scans together means that diagnosis is easier and that issues and conditions can be picked up earlier. The combined scan can provide precise information about how different parts of the body are working and identify problems. For example because the SPECT CT scan can look at blood flow it can pick up altered blood flow in the brain and help diagnose or evaluate certain vascular brain disorders, often earlier than by other imaging methods.  The hybrid scanner can be used on adults and children and is used to diagnose a range of conditions. 

Anna George, the lead nurse for Medical Physics said:

“Now we have this technology here as well as the Cumberland Infirmary it means that we can see twice as many patients but more importantly, it means that west Cumbria patients who need these tests and scans can come here for them. Around five patients a week had to travel to Carlisle for heart scans alone and around 40% of all nuclear medicine tests are for patients in west Cumbria so it really will benefit a lot of people.”

One person that this would have been useful for was Malcolm Cavanaugh. He had heart failure and needed a scan to check what was happening so that they could make sure that they were doing all they could for him. They needed to test his heart under stress and then they needed to do the same test again two days later which meant two trips to Carlisle.

He said:

“I wasn’t bothered about going to Carlisle as I needed the procedure but obviously it would have been better if it was here. Having a facility like this on the doorstep is great.

“It means a lot personally.. You haven’t got to travel as far and if anything goes wrong, you’re close to home. The staff and the care I received was fantastic and while I didn’t mind going to Carlisle it is great to have this here especially when there are so many patients who are benefiting. The people that I have seen and the care I have received has been fantastic; if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be as well as I am now.”

Anna hopes that future recruitment will also be easier now the equipment and department is state of the art. She said:

“It was very difficult to recruit when we had old equipment. Now we have had investment in the service and in the department we hope new roles that come up will be far more attractive. Equally, we expect that retention of staff will be better and we are able to keep growing the departments and the opportunities that are available.”

Lydia Shamsudin is one of the new recruits as an apprentice healthcare science practitioner. The former biomedical scientist wanted a job that was more patient facing and when she saw the apprentice opportunity she jumped at the chance. She said:

“With this role I have the lab side of things and the science side of things but I also get to see patients which I really enjoy.

“It’s a great place for me to start my career and I am the first apprentice that they have taken on in the department. I feel really lucky for the opportunity to be able to specialise in west Cumbria. I am from west Cumbria – Whitehaven so it’s right on my doorstep.

“I can’t stress enough what a great opportunity it is for me to do an apprenticeship here because it just hasn’t happened before. In the larger areas for example Newcastle, there are apprentice opportunities all the time and I never thought that it would come about. The fact they have invested in the equipment and the workforce here in west is so good. I hope that it opens up opportunities for others in the future.”

The department also undertakes clinical measurements that monitor patients to check for or management things like COPD, Lung cancer and oxygen levels.

Maxine added:

“In order to house the new scanner an area of the hospital has been redeveloped and renovated. It means that as well as carrying out the new scans we are also undertaking our other services in a brand new fit for purpose environment. It’s going to be so much better for staff and for patients. We have been able to expand and upskill our small team at the West Cumberland Hospital.   Carlisle are due to have the same type of new scanner installed in early 2024.  This makes it easier for the nuclear medicine team to be able to work collaboratively across both sites. It will also mean better development opportunities within the team.

“We give our sincere thanks to the Sellafield charity snowball who donated £1000 so we could buy new patient scales with an integrated height bar and a TV with a DVD player so that children who need scans can watch their favourite cartoon or tv programme.”

An official opening of the new scanner and department will take place on Wednesday 25th October with invited guests including guest of honour, local fundraiser, Gary McKee.


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