by Liz Crudgington
A unit dedicated to medical research has opened at the QEQM Hospital in Margate.
The clinical trials unit was funded by donations to East Kent Hospitals Charity from Hornby Hobbies and the Freemasons of Thanet and was officially opened by Tracey Fletcher, chief executive of East Kent Hospitals.
It will benefit patients across Kent, meaning people will no longer need to travel to London to take part in trials of the latest drugs or medical devices.
The £1.6 million unit was created from an old ward and has four beds, its own pathology suite, clinical rooms, and offices. It will host both major commercial studies such as trials of new drugs, as well as home-grown research led by Trust clinicians.
Ms Fletcher said: “I have only been here for 12 weeks but this is my second opening. It is a real privilege to be involved in the end-of-project phases like this.
“The real value of this facility is that it operates across Kent and Medway, bringing people together, building relationships and helping more people, not just in east Kent.
“It is a great environment and will provide amazing opportunities for research collaboration.”
She thanked the research team, particularly director of research and innovation Jess Evans, as well as external partners and donors.
Ms Evans said: “People say the best way to test a team is to put them in a difficult situation and that’s what happened with Covid.
“We knew then that we could deliver complex research projects, but we didn’t have the facility or the staff.
“It is really exciting to have this new unit and to be able to deliver for more patients and change their outcomes.”
Ms Evans thanked the Trust’s board for their support, as well as the strategy team and build team.
She added: “I will be forever grateful to our sponsors, Hornby and the local Masons, for supporting patients and staff in this hospital.”
And she paid a special tribute to Sharon Turney, the unit’s co-ordinator, for her role in making it a reality.
The opening was attended by members of the Trust’s board, as well as representatives from Hornby and the Masons, and from the Kent and Medway Medical School, University of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University.
Delegates from Pharmacare, who were involved in the unit’s first official study, investigating whether Sambucol black elderberry liquid could lessen the symptoms of Covid-19, were also there. Results from the trial are expected later this year.
Trish Singh, head of marketing at Pharmacare Europe, said: “We are delighted to be the first study officially hosted by the new clinical trials unit.
“The Berry study is very close to our hearts and we are eagerly awaiting the trial results to see what benefits patients found from using Sambucol black elderberry liquid.”
Dee Neligan, senior charity officer for East Kent Hospitals Charity, said it was fantastic to see the unit become a reality.
She said: “We have been overwhelmed with the support from our local communities for this project.
“Hornby Hobbies donated the proceeds from the sales of their limited-edition Captain Tom locomotive, which was used to fund the clinical area, and the Freemasons of Thanet were supported by the Kent Freemasons Charity and the Masonic Charitable Foundation. Their donation was used for the pathology suite.
“We are hugely grateful to everyone who has supported this unit and look forward to hearing more about the research that will take place here and the many ways it will benefit people across Kent.”