A NEW unit at Northwick Park hospital which will treat injuries, cancers and deformities of the face, jaw and throat celebrated its "topping out" ceremony on Monday.

The Oral-Maxillo Facial Service Unit, which will open in the spring, cost £4.2 million to build and is situated on the first floor to the right of reception of the hospital, in Watford Road.

The unit will serve patients from Harrow, Brent, Ealing and Watford and brings together a host of services which were formerly spread across north and west London, including at Mount Vernon and Central Middlesex Hospitals. It will provide a more efficient and centralised treatment for patients such as those who suffer facial trauma in a car crash.

Roy Farrell, Clinical Director of Head and Neck, Ear Nose and Throat, said: "The idea is to rationalise the clinical service, centralising it so that the majority of a patient's treatment and surgery will take place here. The unit will be available for A&E and on-call cover, serving a large patch, so that it is both cost efficient and patient friendly. For the people of Harrow, it is even better as the main centre is right here on their doorstep."

With 48 rooms, two operating theatres and five treatment rooms, the unit was originally proposed in 1996, when the Galbier Report recommended centralising some types of surgery in regional hubs'. Wendy Hickey, Oral-Maxillo's Project Manager, was delighted that it had finally become reality.

"People tend to think of this as dentistry but it is so much more than that," she said. "It will do vital work in facial and jaw reconstruction, and in treating various cancers. Our consultants are probably the most qualified people working in the NHS because they are both qualified doctors and dentists, so are as rare as hen's teeth. The recruitment has been terrific, we have got the two new surgeons we needed and are ready to go."

Contractors Fitzpatrick opened a bottle of champagne at the ceremony after completing their building work in just three weeks. The building is made up of modular units which are theoretically mobile, so they could be moved after Northwick Park's future redevelopment if required.

One of the reasons why Northwick Park was chosen for the centre was because of the high rate of oral cancers in Harrow. According to some studies, this has been linked to the habit of chewing betel nuts among the Asian population.