Vital medical supplies, collected by NHS staff in the North-East, are on their way to the Ukrainian border following an appeal inspired by Polish mother-of-two. PETER BARRON reports

WHEN Marta Lowell saw the first horrific images of the Russian invasion of Ukraine back in February, she instantly knew she had to try to do something to help.

Marta, who came to England from Poland in 2006, appealed to her employers in the NHS – and that has led to “a heart-warming and overwhelming” show of support.

NHS North of England Commissioning Support (NECS) became the conduit for collections of vital supplies from NHS staff – ready for transportation to the Polish city of Lublin, close to the Ukraine border.

NECS, which has its headquarters in Durham, is an NHS organisation that provides services for health and social care customers across England, employing around 1,900 staff.

And, as a result of NECS’ backing for Marta’s appeal, three large van-loads of essential items – including clothing, food, sanitary products, and basic first-aid equipment – were driven nearly 1,400 miles to Lubin by North-East volunteers earlier this year for onward distribution to established camps.

Now, another two van-loads of medical supplies are on their way to the city to support displaced Ukrainians in Poland after setting off from the Polish Centre, in Newcastle, this week.

“I still have family in Poland and, when the invasion happened, I felt helpless,” said Marta, who came to the UK in search of better opportunities for herself and her two children.

“I was anxious because it was happening so close to my homeland, and I knew I had to do something. I couldn’t sit still so I started my own appeal on social media, and then went to the executive team at NECS for help. There were so supportive and the response from my colleagues in the NHS across the region has been heart-warming and overwhelming.”

Marta initially did factory work when she first arrived in this country before finding work in administration with the NHS, and that led to her becoming a Commissioning Support Project Officer with NECS in 2018.

NECS managing director, Stephen Childs, said: “When Marta asked for our help, we were able to tap into our networks within the NHS for support. People who work for the NHS are naturally caring people and that has again been underlined by the speed of their response to this appeal.”

As well as the collection of supplies through the region’s Clinical Commissioning Groups and Primary Care Networks, cash donations were also made by NHS employees. County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust also played its part with donations of first-aid equipment.

The volunteers heading to Lublin with the medical supplies include Darlington councillor Chris McEwan, a former NECS employee, and Durham county councillors Carl Marshall and Kevin Shaw. Councillor Marshall had previous experience of driving aid to Poland following an appeal organised through the Polish Centre, in Newcastle.

Councillor Marshall said: “We have seen NHS staff step up in many different ways over the past few years, and this is another example of that. It’s not just about the quantity of supplies we are taking over, but the quality too.”

Councillor McEwan, who also volunteered for the previous trip to Lublin, added: “Although it’s incredibly challenging, it’s one of those moments in life where you know it’s the right thing to do.”

Logistical support and storage has been provided by engineering company, the Bignall Group, based at Shildon. General manager Mark Coatsworth said: “We were looking for ways to get involved in the relief effort for Ukraine, and when we were asked to support this initiative, we were only too pleased. It’s great to be linking up with the NHS in such an effective way.”

The vans have been provided by Milltech Training, in Sunderland, and Harper Signs, at Killingworth. Nigel Williams, of Endeavour Law, based on Teesside, made a financial contribution, and CIPHER Medical has also played a supportive role.

NHS staff in the North-East also donating to international charities such as the Disasters Emergency Committee and the Red Cross.

And Marta hopes that more relief missions can be organised through NECS in the future. “Sadly, we know the impact of the conflict is going to be felt for a long time, so we need to continue using all our resources to help as much as we can,” she said.