Project Will Be a Lifeline for India; Health Reporter HELEN RAE Explains Why Medics in the North East Are Getting Ready for a Lifesaving Trip to India

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Byline: HELEN RAE

MEDICS from the region are preparing to head off on an annual aid mission to undertake operations and teach medical best practice in India. From the end of this month, Walawalkar Hospital in Dervan will be home for 20 volunteers from all over the North East.

Staff from Newcastle Hospitals' NHS Foundation Trust, South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust, Spire Washington Hospital and City Hospitals' Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust are taking part in the mission.

A team including doctors, nurses and biomedical engineers will cover specialities, such as anaesthetics, surgery, midwifery and radiology. They will spend a week working with patients and staff at the hospital in India.

This will be the seventh time a team has made the trip to perform operations - which are often life-saving - and to teach at Walawalkar Hospital.

Through the project, operations have been performed on almost 1,200 patients to date and procedures have ranged from joint replacements, hernia repairs and gallbladder removal to cataract surgery.

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 local 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 and I was thrilled by the response, with staff from several areas of medicine volunteering to help." The team's first visit in February 2006 was a great success. They were able to help more than 100 patients, who would have had a significantly reduced quality of life if left untreated.

Dr Deshpande said: "By sharing our varied expertise, we help to make a difference to patients' lives. …