Former premier Tony Blair has admitted that the death of a regional press photographer from heart disease at the age of 38 led him to question how the health service was being run.
In his newly published book, A Journey, Mr Blair writes about a letter he received which had been written by Northern Echo photographer Ian Weir before his death in 1999 – following an eight-month wait for a heart bypass operation.
The newspaper launched a campaign following Ian’s death called A Chance to Live, which has since been credited as the catalyst for major improvements in treatment for heart patients.
And Mr Blair admits the letter written by the photographer about his wait for the operation had caused him to feel ‘gnawing doubt’ about the way the NHS was run.
He wrote: “Quite apart from routine cases and the flu epidemic, there were patients waiting so long for operations for heart disease that they would die while waiting.
“I received a letter from a woman whose husband had been a Northern Echo photographer whom I had worked with.
“I felt it horribly, felt the responsibility and felt perhaps worst of all a gnawing doubt as to whether it was just time we needed or something more profound in term of the way the service was run.”
The Northern Echo’s campaign was subsequently taken up by local MP Alan Milburn who became Health Secretary and brought in a programme to expand the capacity at NHS heart units across the country.
Echo deputy editor Chris Lloyd told HTFP: “We used the letter after his death as a big splash and it became probably our proudest campaign in the last decade, which was really helped by the fact that Ian did freelance jobs for the Labour Party so he knew Blair and Alan Milburn, who was Darlington MP.”