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Committee that raised millions for cancer care steps down

A committee that raised millions of pounds to set up a life-saving cancer care unit is stepping down.

The organisation behind the Gwynedd Haematology and Cancer Fund is bowing out after 35 years’ service.

The Fund was set up by Dr Tom Korn in 1987, who made it his mission to improve cancer treatment for the people of Gwynedd and Anglesey.

One of the other founding members of the committee, Dr Huw Parry, remembers, as a young doctor, when he first started in 1981, cancer treatment was very limited in North Wales.

Patients had to travel from as far away as Clatterbridge Hospital, on the Wirral, for most treatments.

When he joined Dr Tom Korn to form the Gwynedd Haematology and Cancer Fund, they also invited local solicitor Geraint Lloyd Jones, who provided legal advice right until the last committee in June. All three were determined to improve cancer services in the region.

“In the very early days I worked in the Caernarfon and Anglesey Hospital in Bangor (now Morrisons) and very little was provided for cancer patients in North Wales,” remembers Dr Parry, Chairperson of the committee.

“A consultant would come over from Clatterbridge Hospital twice a week to give treatment. Eventually others and I decided to hijack an unused corner of the hospital and started to give chemotherapy treatment to patients for the first time in Gwynedd.

“It was quite an interesting experience as this private block had plaster coming off the walls, but it was a start.”

In 1992, Dr Tom Korn persuaded the Gwynedd Health Authority to launch an appeal to raise £1m to build a new Haematology and Cancer Treatment Unit at Ysbyty Gwynedd, which soon became Alaw Ward.

The appeal was launched under the leadership of veteran fundraiser Dr Jim Davies and £1.4 million was raised in just four years, with the unit opening in 1999.

Every one of us on the committee and Ward Sister Manon Williams would travel all over Gwynedd and Anglesey to spread the word of what we were trying to do - and to collect cheques.
Dr Parry

“I remember one terribly stormy night, we got the dates mixed up and I had travelled all the way to Edern, on Pen Llyn, to pick up a cheque after a long day at work and was told I was a day early so had to go back the next night.”

He continued: “We gave talks at various groups from the Round Table, Rotary Club, Merched y Wawr, Ladies Circle and the WI and so on, and I’ve always said if it wasn’t for the huge generosity of people from Gwynedd and Anglesey then Alaw would never had been built.

“We were also very lucky to be left legacies by some kind-hearted people.”

Since then the fund has raised and donated over £3m, with the vast majority of it going to the Alaw Ward.

The ward supports a wide variety of day-case and in-patient treatments for patients with different cancers.

Over the years the fund has continued to support a whole range of projects including medical equipment, salaries for staff on Alaw Ward, patient grants and even medical research carried out at Bangor University.

In 2014, £500,000 was donated to enable the Alaw Unit extension project to go ahead. At the time there had been no major improvements to the unit since its opening in 1999. The overall cost of the refurbishment project cost £1.2m in total, the rest of the money came from the Friends of Alaw Ward and Awyr Las the North Wales NHS Charity.

More recently a £50,000 barrier controlled patient car park was funded for chemotherapy patients on Alaw, so patients didn’t have to struggle to find parking places or walk too far for their appointments.

The idea for the patient car park came from former Alaw Ward Nurse Chas Muskett.

At the final Gwynedd Haematology and Cancer Relief Fund committee meeting on Wednesday, June 22, the balance from the fund of £94,609 was presented to Dr Claire Fuller and Alaw Ward Matron Manon Williams to support development of the emergency cancer patient assessment unit on the ward. According to attendees, it proved “an emotional evening”.

Fund Chairperson Dr Parry said: “The time has come for us to step down. I’m very proud of our legacy and cancer treatment in Alaw Ward is as good, if not better, than anywhere in the UK. I’m sure I’d receive first class treatment there if I ever needed its services.

“Alaw Ward has grown to having 18 beds, and more than 30 people use the Alaw Day Unit every day.

“It’s a very busy unit. It’s not because there is more cancer about but because thankfully people are now living longer, survival rates have improved and better treatment means people are living with cancer for longer.”

He also pointed out anyone wishing to continue fundraising will be able to donate directly via the ward to the Awyr Las Alaw Unit Fund, a dedicated fund within Awyr Las the North Wales NHS Charity.

Jen Owens Williams, Alaw Day Unit sister, said: “We will never forget the legacy of Dr Parry and the rest of the fund committee. If it wasn’t for them Alaw simply wouldn’t exist.”

If this story has inspired you and you would like to help improve the lives of patients in North Wales, why not join in with the #TeamIrfon swim taking place in September? You can sign up today.

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