NI Chest Heart & Stroke traces its existence back to June 1946, when a group of lay people, concerned about the devastation which TB was causing to the community, established the Northern Ireland branch of the National Association for the Prevention of TB. The Medical Officer for Belfast was enlisted on the team and funds were raised for programmes of:
b. propaganda (better known today as health promotion)
c. diversional therapy
d. welfare grants.
With the introduction of streptomycin in the 1950s the incidence of TB declined in Northern Ireland, but other serious chest illnesses such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema were on the increase, as was heart disease.
In 1960 the Association was reconstituted as the Northern Ireland Chest and Heart Association. The functions continued to be research, education (propaganda), diversional therapy and welfare grants.
In the early 1970s concern grew among members of the Association that not enough was being done for stroke. In many ways stroke was perceived as the “Cinderella” illness in the Health Service.
In 1974 the charity became the Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke Association. With the introduction of stroke schemes and stroke clubs, diversional therapy was employed to improve quality of life and to ensure therapeutic improvement for those who had suffered this most disabling of illnesses. Stroke is the largest single cause of disability in our community and sadly the disabling effects are often long–term.
Nowadays we continue to fund research, health promotion, rehabilitation and care, as well as counselling and welfare work. In addition, we lobby and advocate on behalf of all those who need treatment.
One of our lengthiest campaigns has been to reduce waiting times for heart surgery. Some success was achieved in the early 1990s on this when 2 additional cardiac surgical teams were appointed and the numbers on the waiting list were reduced from 1,000 to 600 by 1996. Sadly, cash and staff shortages have reversed this improvement, but patients have been offered surgery in other parts of the UK and in the Republic of Ireland. In the last 3 years this has greatly reduced the waiting list from 600 to just over 200.
However, it is our belief that this is not a long–term solution.
We have also campaigned, with a marked degree of success, for the introduction of Stroke Units in our hospitals. Two out of every three hospitals now have such a unit, but we continue to campaign for the service to be available to all. We have been instrumental in the establishment, through the Health Service, of 3 community stroke teams. This ensures a seamless transition of care from hospital to home.
The New Opportunities Fund is financing a strategy on stroke, which has been drawn up by the four Health Boards. We are the lead organisation in the implementation of this strategy in the Eastern Health Board.
As further pressure continues to grow on Health Service resources, we will remain a strong voice on behalf of all those who depend on our services.