A 72-YEAR-OLD man has been airlifted to hospital in a critical condition after being taken ill at a gym owned by Dragon's Den star Duncan Bannatyne.

He suffered a suspected heart attack while using a treadmill at the fitness centre in Haughton Road, Darlington, this morning.

The Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) was called to the scene, along with a road ambulance.

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Mr Bannatyne, whose head office is near the gym, is on site and was seen chatting to employees and gym members as the incident unfolded.

A GNAAS spokesman said: "The man was assessed and treated by our air crew doctor and paramedic before being flown to the specialist unit at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.

"The flight took just six minutes and the man was in a critical condition on arrival."

Gym users were asked to remain outside the building during the emergency, while emergency services worked on the patient.

Speaking after the event, Mr Bannatyne said: "An elderly gentleman was taken ill, CPR was given and he was kept alive.

"He has been taken to hospital and we wish him all the best."

In 2012, it was reported during The Northern Echo's Chance to Live Campaign that the Bannatyne Group did not use defibrillator machines in its gyms.

This, said the group, was because 'they are a specialist piece of medical equipment, which should only be operated by qualifiedmedical professionals'.

One gym user, who asked not to be named, questioned the chain's policy, saying a large number of members at the Haughton Road gym are elderly and more vulnerable to medical emergencies.

Asked whether this incident would re-open the debate, Mr Bannatyne said his company had recently bought 60 defibrillators, which are being introduced into his clubs in stages.

It is not clear whether or not a defibrillator - which can restart the heart after a cardiac arrest - was appropriate in this emergency.