A NEW eye unit is set to open at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton later this month, serving more than 14,000 patients and reducing their need to travel to James Cook for treatment.

Renovation work is taking place to transform the former Allerton Ward, which is currently not in use, into a dedicated eye unit.

The Allerton Eye Unit will offer all of the services previously provided by the ophthalmology team from the hospital’s main outpatients department, but on a much bigger scale.

Clinics will increase from eight a week to as many as 30 a week which means that hundreds more patients will be able to have their eye outpatients appointments on the Northallerton site.

Once social distancing rules are relaxed, the unit will welcome more than 14,000 patients a year through its doors.

The development work and purchase of additional equipment has been supported by The Friends of the Friarage and a special plaque will be placed on the unit in recognition of their contribution.

Clinical director for ophthalmology Phil Severn said: “We are really excited to be taking over the unit.

"This development is fantastic news for patients across the Hambleton and Richmondshire area.

"It means we will be able to treat a lot more patients on the Friarage site, reducing the need for people to travel to James Cook as well as reducing waiting times.”

Former Mayor of Northallerton and town councillor, Jack Dobson, campaigned for a new eye unit alongside the late Dales councillor and Friarage supporter John Blackie.

They voiced rising concerns from residents over cuts to Friarage services amid fears the hospital was slowly being closed.

Mr Dobson welcomed news that the Allerton Ward is in the process of being revamped and said: “Cllr John Blackie and I campaigned for over five years for this, because there was an urgent need in the Dales and in the Northallerton area for a dedicated eye department.

"Residents were waiting more than ten months for cataract operations.

“I’m now given to understand that there is confidence within four to five months of the opening of the new eye department, with additional consultants, that local residents will all receive treatment at the Friarage rather than travelling to James Cook Hospital or Newmedica in North Ormesby, Middlesbrough.

"That news will be particularly welcome to our elderly residents."

Mr Dobson added: “Unfortunately John Blackie passed away last July before the good news for the Friarage eye department, but I have requested that the department be dedicated to John, and in doing so he will always be remembered for his dedicated work to the hospital he loved over many, many years.”