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New state of the art mammography equipment installed at Darlington Memorial Hospital

A new state of the art mammography unit is now operational at Darlington Memorial Hospital.

The digital imaging equipment provides a more comfortable experience for patients and delivers enhanced sensitivity and 3D image quality which supports improved detection of cancer.

County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust has invested in the new equipment following a review of its out-patient breast surgery service.

The review involved centralising services in the short term onto the two sites with the best quality imaging equipment: University Hospital of North Durham (UHND) and Bishop Auckland Hospital.

Since then, clinicians have recommended that centralising new out-patient clinics onto the Trust's two acute sites, UHND and Darlington Memorial Hospital (DMH) would have significant clinical benefits to patients, allowing the development of more advanced diagnostic testing. However, there was a need to invest in equipment in the south of the county to ensure patients with breast conditions could access the best possible imaging. 

Work has been progressing over the past few months to install the new mammography equipment and is now complete. Where patients are referred to hospital by their GP or following screening, state of the art equipment will allow much more complex and accurate tests to be carried out, resulting in better care for patients with breast cancer.  This equipment is now installed in Darlington and is already available in Durham.

Mr Amir Bhatti, Consultant lead for breast services said: "Our clinical recommendation was to install the new equipment at Darlington so patients requiring rapid access to breast assessment have timely access to the specialist clinical teams and imaging equipment. These elements are critical to ensure early diagnosis and where necessary the initiation of treatment.

"The new equipment offers more rapid, low dose imaging with improved image quality. The unit is very user friendly and provides more comfortable and reliable acquisition of images. It benefits from both stereotactic biopsy and digital breast tomosynthesis facilities. The digital breast tomosynthesis - 3D pictures of the breast using x-rays - is designed to provide higher sensitivity and specificity thereby offering improved cancer detection regardless of breast size or tissue density. These additional features will ensure an all-in-one system for screening, diagnostics, biopsy and 3D tomosynthesis. And as such patients will be able to attend a one stop breast clinic, with biopsies being undertaken on the day of attendance.

"Due to the improved speed of imaging, the patient's examination time in radiology will also be reduced thereby improving the overall patient experience."

Patients requiring follow up appointments and who do not need specialist imaging will continue to be seen at their local hospital wherever possible including Bishop Auckland Hospital. These changes also do not affect the national breast cancer screening programme which takes place from mobile units at various locations across the county.

Janet Sedgwick, Associate Chief Operating Officer for Surgery and Diagnostics said: "We had planned to transfer new out-patient clinics from Bishop Auckland to Darlington from Monday 17 August. However, due to a significant equipment failure we have moved a week earlier. We are contacting patients who had appointments at Bishop Auckland this week to discuss alternative arrangements. We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused. We are, however, pleased to now be able to offer these patients access to the state of the art equipment and improved imaging."

The changes to the breast service have been made as interim arrangements and any permanent configurations will be subject to a wider consultation about Trust services at a later date.

'As I was very, very nervous, I must have been the worst patient ever and they were brilliant with me and I can't thank them enough - could you please pass on my sincere thanks.'

Patient, Hysteroscopy Unit, Chester-le-Street Community Hospital