The results are in following a prostate cancer testing day, organised by Darlington Lions Club at Blackwell Grange Golf Club - and the initiative has been declared a roaring success. PETER BARRON took part...

IT’S nice when a plan comes together – especially when it’s all about saving lives.

Last month, this column was devoted to promoting an initiative by Darlington Lions Club to offer men free prostate cancer tests in partnership with the town’s Blackwell Grange Golf Club.

The idea was to stage a fundraising golf tournament at the club, while also bringing in volunteer nurses to carry out PSA (prostate-specific-antigen) blood tests to spot early signs of cancer, with the costs covered by Lions’ fundraising.

It all took place on August 6 and the results are now in, with the day being described by the Lions as a roaring success, and thoughts already turning to a follow-up event.

“It was a fantastic day and we’re so grateful to everyone who played their part,” said Dave Simmons, a 75-year-old Blackwell Grange Golf Club member whose own life may well have been saved thanks to having a PSA test paid for by the Lions.

Dave, pictured below, used a home-testing kit, supplied by the Lions, and was shocked to discover he had a PSA level of 21.1, compared to the normal level of 6.5. Thanks to the early diagnosis, radiation therapy and medication has brought the cancer under control, and Dave is now using his experience to campaign to protect others.

The Northern Echo:

During the PSA testing day at the golf club, 129 tests were carried out and 112 were “green” for normal. Twelve were “red” and five “amber” – indicating varying levels of concern.

“A candlelight in a dark room is better than no light at all,” is how Dave puts it.

“If I hadn’t had that test 18 months ago, the cancer could have reached the point where nothing could be done about it.

“I know at least three lads who had red letters from the testing day at Blackwell Grange Golf Club and went to see their GPs the next day. Potentially, we could be talking about saving 17 lives so, in my book, the event was very worthwhile.”

The day also raised around £2,000, to be split between charities chosen by the men’s and ladies’ captains. This year’s men’s captain, Dickie Parker, nominated Prostate Cancer UK, while ladies’ captain, Janet Edwards, chose Asthma and Lung UK.

Neil Anderson, past president of Darlington Lions Club, said: “It was an excellent day and we’re very pleased with the response from those who came forward to have the tests, and from the nurses who so generously gave their time. Not only has it raised a lot of money but, who knows, it could have saved lives.”

Dickie Parker added: “The biggest thing for me was the way everyone came together in a fantastic atmosphere, with everyone enjoying themselves.”

Janet Edwards agreed, saying: “It was a really enjoyable day and people were really generous with their donations for two really worthwhile causes.”

The team of 12 nurses were led by Karen Newton, who commented: “It’s been brilliant to get so many men coming forward to be tested in an informal, light-hearted setting. Everyone’s worked together and it’s been a pleasure to be involved.”

Darlington Building Society added to the magnificent community effort by providing two of their customer service consultants, Sandra McGrath and Tom Ward, as volunteer marshals, while the Society’s chairman, Jack Cullen, was among those who took part in the golf tournament.

As for me, I’m pleased to say that I was among those whose PSA levels came back as green for normal.

For Dave Simmons – forever grateful for the chance he’s been given – the campaign goes on to raise awareness and save lives goes on.

“Darlington Lions Club has decided to set money aside for another PSA testing event next year,” he revealed.

It’s about keeping the candle alight in a dark room.

THOSE fighting for justice for the victims of the contaminated blood scandal have kept their own candle alight in a very dark room for more than four decades.

Finally, it was announced last week that around 4,000 people affected by the scandal will receive an interim payment of £100,000 from the Government by the end of October.

During the 1970s and 1980s, around 30,000 people with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders were given blood products infected with the HIV and hepatitis viruses in a scandal that is arguably the biggest treatment disaster in NHS history.

Under the editorship of Allan Prosser in the mid-1980s, The Northern Echo took up the fight for compensation on behalf of the victims in an award-winning campaign called “The Fight For Justice”.

It was an honour to work on that campaign – my first real taste of campaigning journalism – and to interview incredibly brave people like brothers Pete and Stephen Longstaff, from Hartlepool, who were both diagnosed with HIV in 1985.

I vividly remember going to their home and witnessing the family’s anxiety about whether to go public at a time when ignorance and prejudice towards HIV and AIDS were sadly prevalent.

Horrifically, an anti-AIDS slogan was even daubed on the side of their house.

Pete’s wife, Carol Grayson, went on to become one of the leading campaigners for justice for the victims, and she never gave up, even though her husband died of AIDS in 2015. The Northern Echo’s campaign is prominently referenced in her academic studies into the scandal.

It is because of the incredible courage and stamina of people like Carol Grayson (pictured below with Pete in 2003) that there is, at long last, a breakthrough, with the £100,000 interim payment to those who developed viruses from contaminated blood supplied through the NHS, as well as partners and children of those who have died.

The Northern Echo:

It is clearly a case of better late than never. But what an utter disgrace that it has taken 40 years to come to fruition…four tragically long decades in which victims died waiting, while too many people in positions of responsibility sought to brush the scandal under the carpet in the hope it would go away.

Shame on them.