We all need friends. Particularly in hospital. But they don’t always have to take the form of the friends and relatives who visit us.
They may be the people wheeling the afternoon trolleys laden with small treats through the wards of Blackpool Victoria Hospital. It’s all part of the bigger picture for the little league which makes such a huge difference to the quality of life for local hospital patients.
The influence of one committed group of community fund raisers can be felt in and around all our local hospitals.
Larry O’Hara, 76, is set to stand down as chairman of the League of Friends - but not before he’s first found a worthy successor to step into his shoes.
It’s a tall order with many local charities clamouring for trustees with the expertise to help them knit together gaping holes in society’s safety nets.
Chairman Larry leads the league which raises money to buy items on a shopping list provided by medics and nurses and other health care professionals.
We’re not talking loose change for a few extra toys in the children’s unit - although that happens too - but the actual building of the unit in the first place.
When Larry took over as treasurer 13 years ago - under now life president Tony Cole’s chairmanship - the league had five branches on the Fylde coast.
“They were all engaged and involved and produced between £30k-£80k a year. Most of this came from fund raising events but it became fairly evident to me that we needed to reach other funding sources - particularly as so many members were of my generation and few come through to take their place.”
Larry set about targeting legacies. “We’re down to two branches today, South Shore and Poulton and Over Wyre. But legacies offer substantial chunks of money. We send out 100 letters every couple of years to will makers and solicitors.
“When I came in at the end of 1999 we were struggling towards our first million pounds. The league has been going for 34 years. Since then we have raised nearly £5m. It’s always gone up, even in recession. Last year we raised £1.8m for the children’s ward - thanks to a legacy from two local farmers.”
Next year cancer patients are set to benefit from a new oncology and haematology unit offering greater privacy and a more streamlined service at the Vic thanks to the NHS trust’s own Blue Skies Hospitals Fund - which donated £195,000 - and the League of Friends who donated £125,000. A further £21,373 donated by the Kay Kendall Leukaemia Fund will be spent on equipping the haematology day unit.
Kathy Ancell, head of fund raising at Blue Skies, says the donation was possible thanks to the “generosity and commitment” of fund raisers across the Fylde coast. But once again, for the League, it was a legacy that offered the lifeline. Larry explains: “It was down to a kind legacy from a Poulton lady called Doris Mitchell, who left her house to the League of Friends, realising £118,766.”
Larry recalls: “Five years ago a local chap left us every penny he had - including his very last pension cheque. We thought it a terrific gesture. It was as if someone had turned a light on and illuminated the work we had been doing and trusted us to use the money well. Legacies still come as a surprise.
“It was a legacy which enabled us to complete the work on the new children’s unit when the trust couldn’t afford to finish the build. We intended equipping the place but instead paid 60 per cent of the build cost - around £1.8m.
“We are using Mrs Mitchell’s money to fund about 35 per cent of the oncology and haematology day unit which will open in the new year.
“But you know the extraordinary thing? Solicitors tell us that very few beneficiaries tell them what happens when the money is handed over. They hardly ever hear a word. Yet it matters to the families. Most are extremely grateful when we provide the details.
“Yet this lady left a house to us. A house! Her solicitor and executors deserve to know what we did with the money realised.”
The League meets to discuss how to use the money to the best advantage.
“We get on really well with the medical staff at the hospital and talk to them to make sure it goes for the benefit of patients. We have a wish list from all the wards and departments in the hospital and go through them and work our way up on a priority basis.
“Our own volunteers pushing the trolleys in the afternoon are well placed to see what’s going to benefit patients - or where the money could be wasted.”
Topping the former gold miner’s own wish list is ... someone to take over his own role.
“Put a little time in and the rewards are immense. The best letters are from ward sisters who say what a change it has made to working, atmosphere, their patients. But don’t go in it looking for thanks.”
The League has just agreed to fund £54,240 of equipment on the hospital’s Christmas wish list.
These include portable weighing scales for the maternity unit, middle ear analysers for audiology, nerve conductive hardware for orthopaedics, facial nerve stimulator for theatres, bladder scanner for urology, forceps and scissors in obstetrics, and a bronchoscope for intensive care.
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