Celebrate the best of the NHS

First published in Ray Mallon The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

PEOPLE make statements about themselves in many ways – their clothes, their cars, the places they go.

Towns should make statements about themselves as well. They should say loud and clear what sort of places they want to be, what they believe is important.

So, in recent years, Middlesbrough has adopted an annual charity. This provides practical support to a voluntary organisation doing good work and gives the town a chance to say what values, what causes, it thinks are important. Last year and this, our charity has been the Yorkshire Regiment, chosen to cement its historic and current links with Middlesbrough.

Next year, I’m delighted to say Middlesbrough will be backing the South Cleveland Heart Fund which supports the cardiothoracic unit at James Cook University Hospital in its work and research. This will highlight the pioneering, lifesaving work that’s happening on our doorstep. It will also help Middlesbrough become a town that takes its health more seriously.

The South Cleveland Heart Fund was set up in 1992 by Dr Adrian Davies, a now retired consultant cardiologist. It is a very traditional charity. It doesn’t employ fundraisers, relies wholly on volunteers and the generosity of the public and is run by an open committee.

But it is no less effective for all that.

The fund has raised more than £1m to support better facilities for patients, new equipment and training and research at James Cook. As I write, I am looking at a list of recent purchases the generosity of donors has made possible. Two things strike me.

The first is the huge advances in treatment over the past two decades, advances that have led to a 50 per cent reduction in deaths among people admitted to hospital with acute heart disease. The second is the cost. A machine to detect and treat heart rhythm disorders is £110,000 and an echocardiograph machine will set you back £90,000. The list goes on.

These are items essential to keep James Cook a centre of excellence that prolongs and saves lives, an oasis in the desert as Dr Davies describes it. They are items which the NHS could not dream of buying.

They will remain a dream, sadly, while the NHS, like the rest of the public sector, swallows the unpalatable medicine of Government austerity. That makes it all the more important to support organisations like the South Cleveland Heart Fund and also to take a good look at our attitudes to health. How much we spend on it as a nation; how we look after our own well-being.

While I want every Middlesbrough resident to support the fund, I also want them to think what they need to do – eating less, exercising more and stopping smoking – to minimise their chances of needing its help.

One final thought. This week, we all saw or read about poor Fabrice Muamba, the footballer who suffered a cardiac arrest. What struck me most was the sheer powerlessness of so many people when that dreadful thing happened. Youth, fitness, money, were in an instant wholly irrelevant.

That young man is still alive because he and the rest of us can still rely on superb healthcare facilities managed by great professionals.

We can all support them in our own way and help make next year a celebration of the best in our NHS and the best in a generous town that values it.

􀁧 The South Cleveland Heart Fund holds its AGM at the restaurant at James Cook University Hospital next Thursday at 7pm. All welcome.

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