SUPPORTERS of Salisbury District Hospital's Stars Appeal have seen how their generosity is going to transform the lives of critically ill babies and cancer patients.

On Saturday the hospital hosted an open day to thank donors and the public for their support as president of the appeal Lord Pembroke officially opened two keyhole surgery theatres.

The event was the culmination of the first stage of the appeal which resulted in the people of Salisbury raising £300,000 for the Keyhole Cancer Campaign and £100,000 for the neonatal intensive care unit's Little Lives Campaign in under a year.

"I find it hard to believe that it was only last year that this appeal was launched," chairman of Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust, Luke March told guests. We have raised the money in a time that most of us never believed was possible."

Cancer patients have already been undergoing operations in the laparoscopic theatre suite which is the first of its kind in the country.

By using touch screen technology and high definition monitors, theatre teams are able to work more efficiently and images can be sent to students, enabling surgeons to teach remotely.

However, consultant surgeon Charles Ranaboldo said the biggest benefit was to patients.

"Keyhole surgery puts the patient through the least possible trauma which means they can move onto the next stage of their treatment as quickly as possible," he said.

"This can only help to improve outcomes. It is wonderful to have this technology and our biggest thanks must go to the population of Salisbury who delivered this - it will benefit our patients no end."

Premature and critically ill babies are being given an easier start in life thanks to new equipment in the neonatal intensive care unit.

Specially fitted incubators reduce the number of times that babies need to be handled as they can be weighed and monitored more easily, while new blood monitoring equipment means staff can take less blood from their tiny bodies. One in ten babies born in the hospital spends time in the unit and staff help around 300 newborns every year.

Some weigh less than a kilogram and have to fight for their lives.

"When babies are that small, they don't like to be handled and this new equipment means we can leave them alone as much as possible," said NICU midwife Nicky Ringrose.

"If they are kept warm they get better more quickly and our aim is to get them home and starting life with their families as quickly as possible.

"It is fantastic that people have been so enthusiastic about raising money for us."

Many supporters and members of the public said they were inspired to see for themselves how the money had been spent as they had a glimpse of the new operating theatres and met staff.

"It is a great privilege to open the new theatres," said Lord Pembroke.

"This appeal has a huge amount of support and has raised a huge amount of money and I can't thank everyone enough for giving so generously."

The Stars Appeal is now turning its attention to its next project which will benefit 6,000 children every year.

The Caring 4 Kids Campaign will be launched shortly and aims to fund a state-of-the-art children's centre to benefit young patients.