HEALTH workers from Wearside will fly thousands of miles to help those in the poorest parts of India.
Staff from City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust and Spire Washington Hospital will be among those travelling to Walawalkar Hospital, in the rural area of Dervan.
The team, which includes doctors, nurses and biomedical engineers, will help out with surgery, midwifery and radiology.
The project first began after Dr Sanjay Deshpande, a consultant anaesthetist at South Tyneside District Hospital, was invited to visit Walawalkar while on a family holiday to India in 2005.
Dr Deshpande, who is the project leader, said: “I was overwhelmed by the dedication and commitment of the staff, despite working in difficult, often less than sanitary conditions and having to tackle the mistrust of the community towards modern medicine.
“Back home, I approached colleagues at South Tyneside District Hospital and Spire Washington Hospital to see if they would be willing to donate their time and services to Walawalkar Hospital.
“I was thrilled by the response, with staff from several areas of medicine volunteering to help.”
This will be the seventh time that a team has made the trip to perform operations – which are often life-saving – and to teach.
Through the project, operations have been performed on almost 1,200 patients and procedures have included joint replacements, hernia repairs, gallbladder removal and cataract surgery.
Iain Thompson, deputy theatre manager at Spire Washington Hospital, has put off his own hip operation so that he can make the trip.
He said: “Dr Deshpande asked me if I would join the team as I work as a theatre nurse across all disciplines, which is what is needed by the surgeons.
“I’m also an advanced life support provider, so will be teaching vital life-saving skills to the people of the village of Dervan.
“I’ve been in pain with my hip for a while now and need to have it operated on but I couldn’t risk not being fit enough for the trip so have postponed it until we get back – I would rather go out and help other people.
“This is going to be an amazing experience and I can’t wait to meet the team at Walawalkar Hospital.”
Dr Deshpande added: “By sharing our varied expertise, we help to make a difference to patients’ lives. As well as the surgery, education is also a very important part of what we do.
“Each return visit has presented its own challenges: from working with equipment that is new to the hospital but is, in fact, rather outdated by western standards, to ensuring that any new team members are aware of the differences they will encounter, both medically and culturally.”
The annual trip is organised by the SVJC Trust, a charity set up by a team led by Dave Wales, senior operating department practitioner at South Tyneside District Hospital, who is SVJC Chairman.
The visit is dependent on donations and this year, about £5,000 has been raised.
Spire Washington Hospital has donated medical supplies that are no longer required.