POPULAR broadcaster Clare Balding was the guest of honour at the grand opening of a £6.5million radiotherapy unit at Basingstoke hospital.

The unit, which will open its doors to patients within the next few weeks, will treat around 300 patients a year, primarily those with breast and prostate cancers and those who need radiotherapy as part of their palliative care.

The Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust facility, which has been in the pipeline for several years, will make a life-changing difference to cancer patients, who would otherwise have to travel to Southampton or Guildford to receive radiotherapy.

Fundraisers, staff, and special guests, including the Mayors of Basingstoke and Deane and Test Valley, gathered at the unit on Tuesday evening to celebrate the official opening.

Ms Balding said that the unit was a “fantastic facility”. Recalling her own experience of thyroid cancer, which she was diagnosed with in 2009, she said the new unit would make the onerous treatment more bearable for cancer patients.

The 43-year-old broadcaster, who is originally from Kingsclere, told The Gazette: “People in Basingstoke and north Hampshire will have access to the best equipment and the best treatment.

“It’s these sorts of amazing facilities which attract the best doctors and encourage them to stay.

“The whole feel of the unit is fantastic – it is a very calm, peaceful place which has been so well thought-out.”

The unit boasts two incredible pieces of equipment – a £2million linear accelerator, used in the delivery of radiotherapy, and a Radiotherapy Planning CT scanner, which uses laser positioning to enable the treatment to be delivered with pinpoint accuracy.

The North Hampshire Medical Fund raised £450,000 for the CT scanner, with vital support from Basingstoke-based charity Rad Can.

William Magill, chairman of the fund, thanked supporters, saying: “We are particularly grateful to charity RadCan, who have raised £100,000.”

Dr Lara Alloway, who is one of the key figures involved in the project, said it was hugely exciting that the unit will open imminently.

Dr Alloway, lead clinician of the palliative care service and associate medical director at Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “This will make a huge difference to patients, but this is only the first stage.”

The interim unit at the hospital, in Aldermaston Road, will be open for two years before the equipment is moved to a new cancer centre, which will be built in north Hampshire.

The main centre is expected to be built on land between the M3, A303 and A34, and it will cost around £13million, Dr Alloway said: “This interim unit will be able to treat around 40 per cent of patients who need treatment. The rest will unfortunately still have to travel until the new cancer centre is open. This unit is fantastic, but you haven’t seen anything yet.”

The Ark Cancer Centre Charity is trying to raise £5million towards the project. For more information, and to make a donation, visit arkcancercharity.org.uk.