OF all the campaigns The Northern Echo has fought over almost 150 years, the battle to cut heart bypass waiting times in this country 20 years ago was the closest to home.

Ian Weir, who died at 38 having waited seven months for an “urgent” triple heart bypass operation, was a photographer here at The Northern Echo – but he could have been anyone, anywhere in Britain.

It was a shocking indictment of our health service that a relatively young father-of-two should have died so prematurely because he was failed by the system. He wasn’t the only one – many heart patients were dying while they waited too long for operations that would have saved their lives. On the 20th anniversary of Ian’s death, we remember our friend and colleague, and our thoughts are also with the families of those who needlessly lost loved ones due to the NHS backlog at the time.

We are proud and reassured to know, from respected heart specialist Professor Jerry Murphy, that our campaign has had a lasting impact, and that those needing treatment are now seen much more quickly.

It is a reminder of the importance of local newspapers, being the first to respond to what is happening within their communities, and “sparking the fuse” to inspire change.

Ian’s sons Joe and Charlie grew up without their dad, and their mum Maggie has been robbed of two precious decades with her husband. Ian never got to see his grandson Seth.

But we know that the Weir family finds comfort in the knowledge that other lives have been saved, and other families have been protected from grief, because of what happened 20 years ago today.