A 'VITAL' piece of medical equipment has been installed at a Dorset hospital, thanks to a £20,000 donation.

A new ultrasound machine has been installed at Dorset County Hospital (DCH) to help provide earlier diagnosis for patients with rheumatoid arthritis, am autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks healthy tissue, causing pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints.

The £20,000 machine was funded by the Friends of DCH, a charity aiming to support the hospital in whatever way they can.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects roughly 400,000 people aged 16 and over in the UK, and the team at DCH see around 4,000 patients a year, with 160 patients referred every year.

Scans can be used to check for joint inflammation and damage, to diagnose the condition and to check how the condition is developing.

The new ultrasound scan means pictures of the patient's joint can be created using high-frequency sound waves which will provide an earlier diagnosis of the illness.

Rheumatology consultant at DCH Dr Mihaela Florea said: "Rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult to diagnose as the diagnosis is not always obvious following clinical examination and in such cases further investigations are needed, including an ultrasound.

"Having one available in the department makes a huge difference in terms of avoiding further delays in diagnosis and treatment which is essential to be initiated as soon as possible to prevent damages to the joints."

Annette Kent, vice chairman of the Friends of DCH, said: "We are really pleased to have funded this vital piece of equipment for the Rheumatology Department."

The Friends of DCH have funded several projects to improve the hospital, including the installation of a garage for blood bikes to be stored, funding for equipment to diagnose colorectal cancer, and the purchase of a tonometer for the emergency department, which measures eye pressure.

"It's been a difficult 18 months for everyone but we are so appreciative of the continued support we have received from the community."

For more information on the Friends of DCH, call the friends team on 01305 255896, email friends@dchft.nhs.uk or visit www.friendsofdorsetcountyhospital.co.uk