East Surrey Hospital in Redhill has become the first in the country to be able to offer claustrophobic and bariatric patients the widest whole-body Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner available.

The hospital has taken delivery of a £1.7 million wide-bore 1.5 Tesla MRI scanner.

The state-of-the-art scanner, along with an Extremity MRI Scanner, will provide first rate radiology services, improving patients' experience and diagnosis, and reducing waiting time.

Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, is installing GE Healthcare's first wide-bore MRI scanner in the UK, with a 70cm diameter - 10cm wider than a regular scanner.

The installation will take three months, which includes the renovation of the existing MRI room and putting in the new system, which has meant building a copper Faraday cage to shield the magnetic field, setting a special safety door, and using a 50 meter-high crane to bring the 6.4 tons of equipment into the hospital. Through the teamwork of the Trust, Finlayson Construction and GE Healthcare, the installation is on track despite the system being diverted mid-flight to Madrid because of the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud shutting down UK airspace.

Staff have worked hard to keep the programme on time.

The scanner should be ready for full use next month (June).

Andrew Millard, trust service lead for imaging and governance, said: "It is a very exciting project and time for the trust and East Surrey Hospital.”

He said: “We are proud to have the new scanner as the first in the UK, which will bring many benefits to patients and staff, including reduced waiting lists and scanning time, more accurate diagnosis and an over-all better patient experience.

"The installation of the wide-bore scanner requires skilled technicians and engineers working with the trust, ensuring the highest quality imaging and positioning.

“The whole body scanner will be available for use in early June.

“The MRI scanner with the extremity scanner will deliver first-class radiology services."

The scanner will be used to scan cancer, neuro, vascular, cardiac, urology, joints and backs, will enable early confirmation of a a mini-stroke, and its imaging shows ligament and tendon detail which X-ray cannot register.

It uses a a magnetic field strength 30,000 times stronger than the Earth's magnetic field.

The new extremity MRI scanner is one of only five in the UK and is the first for an NHS Trust in England.

It will reduce waiting times for scans of smaller areas such as knees and wrists.

The scanner is compact - the size of a small cabinet - with an opening at about knee-height.

A trust spokeswoman said: “The decision of the trust to incorporate a high-end wide-bore whole-body scanner with a high quality extremity scanner will make East Surrey Hospital's radiology department a role model for other UK and European hospitals as a GE reference site.”

Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a harmless, painless imaging procedure that uses a very powerful magnetic field and radio frequencies to create detailed images of the body.