Heart of the County

12th January 2024

After the indulgence of Christmas and New Year festivities, our thoughts often turn to adopting a healthier lifestyle.

Heart conditions are all too common, affecting thousands of people across Essex, but a charitable fund launched by two of the county’s top cardiologists and a charity specialist is helping to save lives and provide vital support.

The Essex Heart Fund has a unique mission, to raise money in Essex and ensure that it is only spent on cardiac services in the county, ranging from providing support in the community for cardiac patients, contributing to the cost of installing defibrillators in village locations, through to new clinical treatments for patients and carrying out ground-breaking research.

The fund was established with ECF and launched in 2020 by renowned consultant cardiologists, Dr Gerald Clesham and Dr Thomas Keeble, along with charity specialist Fred Heddell. Dr Clesham and Dr Keeble both work at hospitals in Essex and Fred has wide experience of the charity sector in the county.

Between them they identified needs and developed the idea for a new charity in Essex, with the aim of bringing major improvements to the lives of Essex heart patients and their families.

Their vision has become a reality and the Essex Heart Fund is already having a positive impact.

Money donated to the Essex Heart Fund is spent solely in the county, on community services and support groups for patients and their families, the development of new hospital-based clinical services and to support local cardiovascular education and research.

Dr Clesham, who works at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford and at the Essex Cardiothoracic Centre in Basildon, said: “Heart conditions are still the commonest causes of premature death and are a major cause of disability.  Our cardiac services here in Essex serve a population of about 1.8 million people and we are fortunate to have the internationally recognised Essex Cardiothoracic Centre in Basildon, along with some great work going on in our other hospitals the county.

“Most of us know someone, maybe a family member, friend or acquaintance, who has been affected by a heart condition.  We were always aware that the people of Essex are very generous and like to donate to heart charities.

“But we also know that only a tiny fraction of the money donated to national heart charities finds its way back to Essex and that people who give money in this way haven’t seen the benefits locally.

Our key message is that the Essex Heart Fund was established to raise charitable funds for cardiac care in Essex and to make sure that the money is spent in Essex.

“We are confident that channelling more money into local services will result in an improved outcome for heart patients. Even modest amounts given as a donation will be highly beneficial.”

Grants from the fund have already made a difference, including support for the Tickers Cardiac Support Group to help provide cardiac fitness training for heart attack survivors at a venue in Chelmsford.

The Fund has also enabled defibrillators to be installed at Essex locations, including former telephone kiosks in Terling, Fairstead and Audley End. A training defibrillator has also been provided for Essex Community First Aid, whose volunteers give first aid cover at community events across Essex.  A grant was also given to Little Yeldham, Tilbury-Juxta-Clare and Ovington Parish Council for a heated defibrillator cabinet for the three villages.

Ongoing research is so important to develop new treatments for cardiac patients and the Fund has already given support to the research and development department at Basildon University Hospital.

Dr Clesham said: “The Essex Heart Fund will help us develop some new ways of treating people with high blood pressure and new techniques for dealing with heart attacks. Support from the fund will allow pilot projects such as these to be carried out and, when they are established and proved to be a success, they can be incorporated into a range of NHS treatments, which could really make a difference to patients.”

Dr Clesham, who has been a consultant in Essex for 20 years, said that, historically, the county’s cardiac services were not at the standard they have achieved today. Other areas were given greater priority for NHS funding as Essex was not seen as an area of deprivation.

“Until 20 years ago nothing was well developed here in terms of cardiac care. We lacked the medical school and specialist services that we have today, and staff wanted to work in London rather than Essex,” he said.

“Now the tide is turning, and we are seeing that staff want to leave London and come to Essex.  A lot of effort was put into creating our specialist services and they are now recognised nationally.

“When we started the Essex Heart Fund, we decided we wanted to take cardiac care into the community.  We know that supporting patients in the community means that they could spend less time in hospital.  When patients are discharged from hospital, they often have questions they would like to ask, but don’t know who to talk to.  Providing a support system, where nurses can phone patients and give advice, will help patients and they will know that someone is looking out for them.

“Helping patients in the community is a very effective way of keeping people well and the Essex Heart Fund will help cardiac patient support groups develop in Essex.  Being able to meet with other people who have been through the same sort of illness can be a wonderful source of support. I am always happy, so is Dr Keeble, to visit such groups, give talks and to give support where new groups are being set up.

“We hope it will also work both ways, as we would like to hear from patients and their families about their views on local cardiac services.  We are always open to being approached, it might be a group wanting help to hire a hall for a meeting or presentation, or patients telling us the things they would like to see as part of our services.

“Locally based research and training are also very important aspects for the fund, because if patients go into hospitals where these two things are carried out, their survival rate is a lot better. It also helps us to recruit and retain staff.

“The new clinical services we will be able to develop will also be so valuable in this area. It can take time to develop such services and the fund will give us the freedom to be able to do this.”

Dr Clesham and Dr Keeble (pictured), who works at Southend Hospital and the Cardiothoracic Centre in Basildon, will be active in the Essex community to promote the fund and provide education about heart health.

“The Essex Heart Fund has its own identity, and working with Essex Community Foundation was the best decision we ever made,” said Dr Clesham.

“We run a lean operation, with minimal expenses and ECF provides the independence and the relevant charity governance, which leaves us free to concentrate on the areas we want to support.

“There is a lot of goodwill out there in Essex and I am very optimistic about the future of the fund. Our main aim now is to build awareness, so that the generous people of Essex know that we are here.”

Did you Know?

  • 7,500 heart procedures are performed every year at the Essex Cardiothoracic Centre
  • In Essex someone dies of heart disease every two hours
  • 20,000 people in Essex have heart failure

It is easy to make a donation and lots of ways that you can give support:

  • Donate online via essexheartfund.org.uk
  • Include EHF in your will
  • Choose EHF as your charity to support if you take part in a fundraising event or nominate EHF as your corporate charity of the year.
  • Organise an event in aid of EHF