A time to remember

As NICHS celebrates its 70th anniversary, Chief Executive Declan Cannane reflects on how things have changed in 70 years.


Local charity Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke is celebrating its 70th anniversary on 14 June this year by looking back to why it started and how those aims compare to the work it does today.

Chief Executive, Declan Cunnane commented, “After the Second World War, Northern Ireland had the highest death rate from tuberculosis (TB) of any region of the United Kingdom. Even before the war, Northern Ireland was recognised as an area of deprivation with more poverty than other areas of the UK and this made it easier for TB to spread. The evacuation that followed the Blitz in 1941 meant that some families, and especially children, from the most deprived inner-city areas of Belfast were moved to the country, and for the first time the deprivation and disease that existed in some parts of Northern Ireland became apparent to the general public.”

It was in this post-war Northern Ireland that 16 concerned volunteers decided to set up a local branch of the National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis. They held their first meeting at 5.30pm on Friday, 14th June 1946 in a borrowed room on William Street South in Belfast, and so the organisation that we know today as Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke began.

Their first act was to organise a public meeting to educate people about TB. Within three months they had agreed that as well as disseminating information about the disease, the organisation should also become involved in the welfare of people already suffering from TB. They set up an advice bureau to give practical and sometimes financial support to TB patients and their families, and to champion their rights with the authorities. They also worked within the sanatoria, organising handicrafts, talks and film shows for the patients who were often there for years. When the patient finally left the sanatoria, they offered advice on finding employment.

Declan Cunnane continued, “Our aims have stayed remarkably unchanged over the past 70 years. In those days we tried to prevent TB from spreading but also cared for those who already had it. Nowadays our mission is to prevent chest, heart and stroke illnesses in Northern Ireland and care for those affected by them.”

The charity began to organise support groups in the 1970s and these formed the basis of the organisation’s current support services.

Today Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke’s support services include:

•   Stroke Family Support Coordinators who act as a link between hospital and home for families, stroke survivors and carers;

•   Stroke Activity Groups And Young Stroke Groups;

•   Post Rehabiltation Exercise Programme (PREP) for stroke survivors who have completed their statutory rehabilitation;

•   Respiratory Schemes;

•   Generic Chest, Heart And Stroke support groups;

•   “Taking Control” Self Management Programme for people living with a long term health condition;

•   Carers Groups.

The services that NICHS offers make a difference to people’s lives. Stroke survivor Eric Howard speaks very warmly about his weekly visits to his local Stroke Activity Group in Cookstown. “The best thing about spending time with other people who have survived a stroke is that we are all in the same boat and can just forget we have had strokes. And my wife Pat no longer feels somehow different because her husband had a stroke.”


For more information about the services NICHS offers,

email mail@nichs.org.uk, visit www.nichs.org.uk or call 028 9032 0184.

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