WORK on a multi-million pound orthopaedic care centre which will reduce waiting times in north Essex is officially underway after a surgeon swapped his scaple for a space to dig the first sod.

The Dame Clare Marx Building, which is being built at Colchester Hospital, is finally getting off the ground nearly a year after proposals were given the green light.

The £34 million complex, spearheaded by the East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust, will boast 72 inpatient beds and six operating theatres.

With a view of opening the facility in 2024, the centre’s namesake visited the site to get things moving, even digging up the first spade-full of earth.

Surgeon Dame Clare, 68, said: “It’s an enormous pleasure to be here at the start of this exciting project.

“This new centre will make a tremendous difference to patients on waiting lists and greatly improve the lives of local people living with pain.

“I’m honoured to give my name to this building which will advance the work to which I have dedicated my career.”

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The forthcoming centre, which could treat 13 patients a day, will boast two wards and enough space to expand even further over the next 20 years.

It will cater for patients from across Suffolk and north Essex and will also reduce the risk of operations being cancelled because of emergency cases.

The complex will also benefit from the use of modern methods of construction, which will reduce the build time by up to 50 per cent and wastage by up to 60 per cent.

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust, added: “I’m delighted we can now begin building this centre.

“It will provide one of the biggest single orthopaedic services in the country and enable us to provide quicker access to these services.

“Dame Clare is an outstanding ambassador, having worked with us for many years as a consultant orthopaedic surgeon and associate medical director.

“She has championed women in medicine and is a source of inspiration for many orthopaedic surgeons.

“It seemed fitting and entirely appropriate that we should honour her service to patients, to orthopaedics, and to our organisation in this way.”