David attended our group to expand on the work of the Trust; David was originally a GP in Weymouth and has approximately another three years to serve as Chair of the Trust.

He explained that the Trust is gradually becoming better known; statistically around one third of the population of Dorset will require the services of the Fortuneswell Unit at some point in their lives. Many people think that the Trust has something to do with Portland as that is where Fortuneswell is, however the name is a coincidence, the wards at Dorchester County Hospital were named alphabetically, and what was the Haematology Department got the name of Fortuneswell. Chemotherapy for blood conditions went with chemotherapy for other cancers, and so what was originally a cramped and dingy unit came into being.

Gradually as people were treated there, donations started to be received, in the hope of improving the facilities, which were becoming more and more inadequate due to advances in treatment and rising numbers of patients. In 1998 it was decided that a charitable trust independent of hospital managers and politicians would be the most effective way of channelling funds into service improvements, and so the Trust was established. There are six committee members and five trustees, the roles are similar except that the trustees bear the legal responsibility for how the Trust operates. Anyone who makes a donation to the Trust is automatically a member for that year and can attend and vote at the AGM, anyone else can attend the AGM but cannot vote.

The simple remit of the Trust is ‘to assist cancer sufferers in Dorset’. The original aim was to set up a dedicated cancer centre in or near DCH modelled on a successful Children’s Centre established a few years previously. Doing this in one go proved more difficult than expected so an incremental approach was adopted. The first major goal was achieved in 2005 when the Trust donated £150,000 to enable the hospital to open a new, patient friendly outpatient’s department. It was a dramatic improvement and raised the profile of the Trust as people could see that charitable funding could enhance what the NHS has to offer.

In 2012 a dedicated cancer ward was opened at the hospital which meant that patients admitted as a result of, for example, side effects of chemotherapy could be treated in a specialist ward and not in a general ward. In addition the ward provides much better accommodation and facilities for the Multi-Disciplinary Team to meet and discuss patients, and share data.

The current project is to convert an area of the ward (currently used for storage) to an isolation suite – two single rooms are planned, so that patients whose immunity is 2 severely reduced can be treated in isolation with clean air supplies, and other means of keeping vulnerable people safe from further infection. The Trust has agreed £5000 for one of these rooms and Leukaemia UK has agreed funds for the second room.

In addition the Trust has funded items of specialised equipment, or been able to help to upgrade equipment from standard issue which will make patients more comfortable or help clinical staff more accurately tailor treatments. In addition they pay for nurses to attend courses, and sometimes help with small research projects which might improve patients’ lives and treatment.

Another role for the Trust is to encourage and support people who want to raise money and this can vary from £10 from a coffee morning to £7000 from a Golf Day (the biggest donation received). Many people who have been treated in the unit, may go on to fund raise, for example a parachute jump, or family/friends may fund raise by having their head shaved (just a couple of examples from the many). There are also gifts in memoriam from funerals.

The Trust itself has about 2 or 3 fund raising events a year, for example, an annual street collection in Dorchester and ‘Swingtime in the Park’ which keeps the Trust in the public eye as well as raising money. The Trust has no paid staff and running costs are minimal, so every penny donated helps the cause.

We then moved on to a general discussion about future directions and how the unit might be improved further. Firstly group members who had experienced the unit were unanimous in their praise for the staff, their professionalism, standards of care and friendliness.

Suggestions for improvements were as follows:

Some specialist nurses are only based at Poole, making seeing them if you are being treated in Dorchester difficult. Most people present had a high opinion of their allocated specialist nurse.

There can be some significant waiting times at the outpatient unit, both for patients and friends/relatives. The constant presence of the TV in the waiting area can be an irritant for some people. There are magazines but perhaps the Trust could consider provision of a library of cancer related books that people could browse through. A facility to photocopy any particular sections of interest would be useful. The outside area appears to be little used, and in fact signs warning of slippery surfaces seem destined to discourage use!

Advice on diet would be useful, and would it be possible to have access to a dietician whilst waiting, it was acknowledged that this could not be all the time but perhaps for 3 certain times of the week advertised in advance. After all, waiting people, both in the waiting area and whilst having their chemo, are a ‘captive audience’.

David made the very valid point that there are some cranky diets out there and the medical profession has difficulty in recommending specific diets as none have been scientifically proven – however for some people just advice on general healthy eating would be useful.

Would it be possible to get reduced rates in the canteen for people waiting? In addition although there are dedicated spaces for chemotherapy the availability of parking permits is not well advertised, and often just discovered by accident.

Finally the National Cancer Survivorship Initiative was mentioned and would it be possible for Fortuneswell to get involved in this. A quick look at their website following Friday’s meeting, shows a blank map in the South West (as well as some other areas) for the pilot of Health and Wellbeing clinics.

David thanked everyone for their helpful suggestions and feedback and will take the ideas away with him to consider.