STAFF and patients at the Royal Devon & Exeter hospital have celebrated a special milestone – 40 years of the Exeter Kidney Unit serving the community.

Four decades ago the specialist unit started with only two dialysis machines and looked after less than 50 renal patients.

Today the services provide life saving treatment to thousands of patients with five satellite units across Devon, a dedicated 26-bed ward at the RD&E Wonford hospital site and a brand new state of the art haemodialysis unit at the RD&E Heavitree hospital.

Royal Devon & Exeter Renal Lead Clinician Dr Richard D’Souza said: “It has been a fantastic 40 years and everyone over the years has helped contribute to the incredible service we have today.

“I would like to thank staff for all their hard work and dedication and give huge thanks to the Exeter Kidney Patient Association, whose incredible support has been invaluable to patients and staff over the years.”

Chris Phillipson, who started dialysis treatment in Exeter in 1973 and has been a transplant success for 31 years, said at the 40th anniversary celebration event: “It’s both strange and lovely to be back and see all these old faces.”

Mr Phillipson said: “I was only about 24 when I started dialysis and you didn’t know too much about it all back then.

“I had dialysis for six hours, three times a week for four years. You spend a lot of time with the staff and other patients and I remember it really felt like one big family together, there to support one another.”

Dr Harry Hall was one of the founding consultants of the original Exeter Kidney Unit at Dean Clarke House in the city centre.

Dr Hall said: “The biggest moment in renal medicine was the realisation that people could survive chronic renal failure, that dialysis could work and keep people alive and well. It was a very exciting time in medicine.

“I thought it ridiculous we didn’t have dialysis treatment for our patients. When the department was given a donation from a patient’s relative it helped to buy our first dialysis machine and the Exeter Kidney Unit began from there.

“There have been such tremendous achievements from humble beginnings and I still remember the very first patient having their dialysis treatment.

“It is wonderful to come back and see how much the kidney unit has increased.”

Professor Anthony Nichols was renal consultant at the Exeter Kidney Unit for 26 years.

He joined the team when it moved from Whipton hospital to its current location at the RD&E Wonford in 1983.

Dr Nichols said: “It was a very exciting time to be joining the team, the new unit was just opening and the services were expanding.

“It was the first time that treatment for chronic dialysis, acute renal failure and transplant were all on one site.

“When I first began we had a very restricted service with 11 beds and seven dialysis stations. It is amazing to see how far it has come from such a small unit to a huge life-saving service for the Devon community.”