Cancer patients smiled and laughed with the Duchess of Cornwall as she chatted to them during their chemotherapy treatment.

Hundreds of nurses, doctors, staff and patients lined the corridors to catch a glimpse of Her Royal Highness during her visit to the Countess of Chester Hospital today (Friday, September 12).

Patients were wheeled out of their beds to greet Camilla, who joked with nurses and grimaced at the endoscopy equipment, during her tour around the new £15m intensive care unit.

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The Duchess, who holds the title of the Countess of Chester, chatted with patients hooked up to intravenous drips for chemotherapy and treatments for bowel conditions, before officially opening the state of the art wing.

Camilla praised nurses who filled the hospital corridors, sharing jokes and marvelling at their lengthy careers, calling the nursing profession “such an art” – and even presented a medal to one hardworking nurse for her dedicated service.

Sian Williams, who has dedicated her life to looking after elderly people and dementia sufferers, was presented with the Haygarth medal by the Duchess, in a special ceremony to recognise a career spanning almost 40 years.

And patients nervously waiting in the endoscopy waiting room were left speechless as the Duchess walked through the waiting room, smiling and chatting to receptionists during her tour of the recently built Haygarth Building.

The Duchess, dressed in a lime green coat, spent almost an hour talking to patients and staff before greeting children and well-wishers at the Countess of Chester Country Park, which she described as “fantastic”.

Crowds of staff, volunteers and patients, clapped and waved Union Jack flags as the royal party arrived in a silver Bentley – and every moment was live streamed into the education centre for dozens of nurses who couldn’t leave their stations.

Excited charity workers from the hospitals’ Babygrow Appeal left their fundraising department in a bid to meet the Duchess to give her a giant duck to give to Prince George.

Lesley Woodhead from the fundraising team said she wanted Camilla to give the baby prince the giant blue toy in preparation for the upcoming duck race.

“When Prince George was born we sent a book to William and Kate with all the names of the babies that were born on the same day, with photos of the babies in,” she said.

And charity champion 85-year-old Pat Daniels said that the visit brought back memories of meeting Diana Princess of Wales – who also held the title of the Countess of Chester – when she officially opened the hospital back in 1984 – 30 years ago.

Mrs Daniels, chair of the Chester Childbirth Appeal, shared her memories of the Princess as she waited for the Duchess to arrive.

She added that the late Princess Diana had been a patron of the charity until her untimely death, but hadn’t approached Camilla to take up the role.

The royal visit saw the Duchess greeted by the Director of Nursing Alison Kelly, who executed a well-practised curtsey, saying she was “delighted to welcome” her.

The royal entourage, including the Lord-Lieutenant of Cheshire David Briggs, then met members of the hospital board including the CEO Tony Chambers, before heading inside to tour the new facilities waving and shaking hands with crowds of doctors and nurses who lined the corridors for the special occasion.

The Duchess was shown into the new endoscopy suite, where she chatted with endoscopy nurse Karen O’Rourke, and was shown a dummy having the invasive procedure done.

Camilla grimaced before breaking into a beaming smile as she left the suite after being told that not all patients have sedation for the procedure, used to investigate conditions including bowel cancer and Crohn’s Disease.

“We really didn’t expect her to speak to us at all, but she seemed very interested,” said nurse O’Rourke.

The Duchess was then shown the decontamination room, before going on to meet the Dr Santokh Sing and lead nurse Melanie Kynastan, who spoke to her about the new 21-bedded ICU.

And Camilla spent time talking with nurses and staff on the unit, marvelling at there long careers, sharing jokes and raising laughter from the women.

Speaking about the nursing profession the Duchess said: “It is such an art.”

Great grandmother Ethel Cartwright was delighted after Camilla stopped to speak her, after being brought down in a wheelchair from her hospital bed.

The 89-year-old, who has six grandchildren and eight great grandchildren, said the Duchess asked her if she was cold as she spoke to her among the crowds lining the corridor.

“She asked me what I was doing here,” said Ethel, who is from Shotton.

“She said what a beautiful day. I said I was enjoying the fresh air. It was very nice, lovely.”

The Duchess chatted to canteen workers, nurses and office workers before heading into the haematology unit and speaking to cancer patients receiving treatment in the day centre.

Remarking on the facility to the patients, many of whom were receiving chemotherapy, she made comments on how open it was, saying “you will all get to know each other”.

The Duchess spoke to chairman of Chester FC Tony Durkin, who was receiving treatment for a rare type of leukaemia after being diagnosed in 2004 with hairy cell leukaemia.

The 61-year-old, who told her he had been receiving treatment in the unit for the past 10 years and his wife was treated there before him for breast cancer, said: “It is a nice surprise that she has come in to see us.”

Camilla then presented the Haygarth medal, named after 18th century physician John Haygarth who worked in Chester, to Sian Williams.

Reacting to the presentation, the mum of two, who has worked in the NHS since 1978, said: “It is a huge recognition not just for me but for all of the nursing team and their achievements.

“I have such pride and allegiance to my profession and I want to leave nursing as I found it – a fantastic and honourable role that invites you into people’s lives to care for them at their most vulnerable of times.”

The Duchess unveiled a sculpture called ‘Infinite Care’ in the courtyard adjacent to the new ICU, before signing the visitors book to loud clapping from crowds of medical staff.

She was presented with a miniature version of the sculpture.

The royal party then enjoyed a stroll around the newly opened Countess of Chester Country Park, to the sounds of angelic singing by children from the Queen’s School.

Camilla walked around the park marvelling at the open space, as she chatted to members of the Land Trust, before meeting Year 9 pupils from the Chester school who were busy making bird boxes and feeders to hang in the trees.

The girls, who were working with conservation volunteers on the project, said they had been practicing their curtsies for the visit and were delighted when she complemented them.

“She was really nice, she wasn’t meant to stop,” said deputy head Irene Jones.

“They curtsied and she complimented them on their curtsies.”

The royal entourage was then treated to music from the Lower Queen’s School Choir, made up of girls from Year 6, who performed a song called Butterfly, as the Duchess officially opened the country park.

The Duchess untied a ribbon unveiling a wooden sculpture, and peered through a looking-hole to take in views of the former landfill site, which is now enjoyed by dog walkers, runners and patients and visitors to the hospital.

And she was presented with a beautiful bouquet of flowers by 13-year old Sophie Palgrave-Neath, whose mum Sarah showed Camilla around as she is the site manager of the park.

The Queen’s School student said: “I was quite nervous, she was lovely.”

Her dad Ian said: “I am very proud of her.”

The Duchess, who spoke to designers, well-wishers and volunteers at the packed park, said that the area was a “fantastic” and a lovely thing, as she chatted with the Lord Mayor of Chester Bob Rudd.

The royal entourage was waved off by MP for the City of Chester Stephen Mosley, the Lord Mayor of Chester Cllr Bob Rudd and his wife Sandra, Chief Constable of Cheshire Constabulary Simon Byrne and the High Sheriff of Cheshire Susan Sellers.

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