Charity which boosted Norwich as leading diabetes treatment centre celebrates 30 years of support
PUBLISHED: 12:00 16 November 2017 | UPDATED: 16:44 17 November 2017
It was an appeal which put Norwich on the map as one of the best centres in the country for diabetes treatment.
And now the charity which has stood up for diabetes patients for decades has celebrated a milestone anniversary.
The Norfolk Diabetes Trust was founded 30 years ago and in that time has helped hundreds of thousands of people. But the organisation had humble beginnings as a pipe dream to bring better facilities to the city.
Co-founder of the charity, Dr Richard Greenwood, said in the 1980s there was little good-quality, organised care for people with the disease in Norfolk. He said as ever, NHS resources were limited, and diabetes was not a priority.
“I arrived in Norwich in 1979 as a consultant and inherited the diabetes clinics at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital,” he said. “But the problem was there was not very much to inherit.”
Dr Greenwood said the two clinics were overwhelmed with patients, and although adjusting staffing levels helped, there was still much work to be done. Patients were having to wait so long that, without the regular meals they needed, one would occasionally collapse and have to be resuscitated.
So along with colleague Dr Philip Heyburn, Dr Greenwood decided the next step was to have a centre purely to treat diabetes.
“At that time there was a fashion for establishing dedicated diabetes centres, it was definitely the way forward.”
However, the site at the old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital was full - and to build on the West Norwich Hospital site would cost around £250,000.
“We realised we were not going to get any NHS funding,” Dr Greenwood said. “So we had to try and raise it elsewhere, which is where Elsie Bertram stepped in with £120,000.”
Mrs Bertram, known for co-founding Bertram Books with her son Kip, had a special place in her heart for diabetes as both Kip and his brother Nigel had the condition.
The Norfolk Diabetes Appeal was officially launched on December 7, 1987 and determined fundraising was taken on by Mrs Bertram and others. She wrote to businesses and other organisations asking them to pledge their support. In 1988 she said: “I have been sending out letters individually. In fact I am going to have to buy a new typewriter because mine has packed up with metal fatigue.”
In 1989 the specialist centre, dubbed the Bertram Diabetes Centre, was opened by Sir Harry Secombe.
Further fundraising under the new name of the Norfolk Diabetes Trust then allowed a dedicated diabetes eye clinic to be opened by the Prince of Wales in 1994. This was one of the first in the UK and played an important role in the establishment of a National Screening Programme for diabetic eye complications.
And then in 1996 a diabetes research unit was funded. At the time, Mrs Bertram, who died in 2003, said: “I’m pig-headed and I am not going to stop. We want the moon. They never thought they would get there but, given the right amount of money, they did. Finding a cure for diabetes is difficult and research is expensive, but that is the important thing for us now and we will do it.”
In 1990 she said: “People still think all you do when you are diabetic is to give up sugar. They do not realise you can lose sight, lose limbs, and have kidney problems.”
But still today, the implications of diabetes are not well known and there is no cure.
Dr Greenwood, who now lives in Cornwall, added: “I think awareness is terribly important. The problem with diabetes is although it’s very common most people with it look very normal. But it’s a huge burden to have to go through and a lot of people find it very difficult.”
The charity estimates more than 50,000 people in Norfolk are living with the condition. And it is now looking to provide more self-education and support for patients in the community, as well as supporting developments in King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth.
Dr Greenwood, 73, stepped down as chairman of the charity in 2006, and retired from the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital in 2009 before moving to Cornwall. But he returned to Norwich this month to celebrate the anniversary with others, including Nigel Bertram, who is now chairman, and his brother Kip, a trustee. In that time the trust has invested more than £2.5m to improve diabetic care in the county.
Dr Greenwood said: “I think the charity could probably spread its wings, it has concentrated on Norfolk up to now but it could widen its horizons - the sky is the limit.”