A £1.8 million fundraising appeal to help save thousands of lives has proved an outstanding success - thanks to the support of communities across Hampshire.

The ambitious Magpie Scanner Appeal, which is to be officially closed at the end of the month, was launched in October 1997 by the Winchester Medical Foundation.

Over the past two and a half years money has poured into the appeal from individuals, businesses, sports clubs and other organisations throughout the county.

The tremendous public support has enabled a state-of-the-art, life-saving magnetic resonance imaging scanner to be provided at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital.

The hospital serves more than 220,000 people living in the Winchester, Eastleigh and Andover areas and the scanner is capable of diagnosing a wide range of conditions, including cancers and painful joint problems.

On May 18, the Duke of Kent, pictured, will officially open the MRI unit.

Appeal chairman Tim Jobling paid tribute to all those who had given their support, emphasising that the way in which local people had embraced the appeal was fantastic.

"They have helped provide Winchester with this marvellous state-of-the-art MRI facility. This has only been provided with the help of everyone - for the benefit of everybody - a facility which will definitely help save lives through early diagnosis. Well done and thank you everyone."

He added that the appeal had been characterised by the very strong partnership which was built up between the many supporters and the hospital itself.

Over the ten years since the Winchester Medical Foundation became a registered charity, public donations have helped provide the local community with better medical facilities and equipment for everybody, young and old.

A spokesman for the Winchester and Healthcare NHS Trust said the duke would make a tour of the MRI unit and meet staff before unveiling a plaque in a special marquee to be set up in the car park.

Members of the appeal team, volunteers and supporters who have made significant contributions have also been invited to attend.

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