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A Significant Medical History

The strains of Shirley Bassey singing ‘Diamonds are Forever’ echoed round the tiny studio situated somewhere down a maze of corridors at the Southern General Hospital.

It made a change from the usual Southern Sound radio suspects - Tom Jones or Tina Turner. Or even that laid back old crooner Perry Como, who is still in the station's Top 20.

But ‘Diamonds’ fitted the bill because Graham Turnbull of Southern Sound Radio was interviewing the irrepressible Clyde 1 presenter Gina McKie along with Eunice Muir, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s (NHSGGC) Nursing Director for Acute Services.

The subject matter was the Diamond Awards, run by NHSGGC in partnership with the Evening Times and Radio Clyde, to celebrate 60 years of the NHS.

Eunice explained the idea was to give the public the chance to thank the volunteers and staff of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

"People always say they would like to nominate this person or that department, but while it's great to have that verbal commitment, we really need to get people to fill in nomination forms from the website or to phone during daytime for a nomination form," explained Eunice.

There are 10 categories.

"The challenge for us," admitted Eunice, "will be to narrow the awards down to 60, one for every year of the NHS." She shrugged. "But how can you possibly single out one person when everyone obviously does such a fantastic job?"

Basically, the idea is to reward the NHS's unsung heroes and heroines, those who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.

One of those heroes is veteran volunteer, Graham Turnbull, now 52, who has been working in hospital radio since he was an 18-year-old university student.

Graham showed Gina that he was an old hand at putting his guests at their ease, flirting unashamedly with both.

He told Eunice she was surprisingly wrinkle free despite what sounded like a pretty tough job.

Gina put him on the spot. "I hope you will say the same thing to me."

"You don't look a day over 21," he told her, which is actually true although she has no qualms in admitting to being 34.

"You ARE a chat-up merchant," she countered. "The patients must love you."

Graham almost ruined the love-in by asking Eunice: "Some people don't remember a time before the NHS, tell me what it was like."

"Frankly, I don't remember either," she laughed, "but I know that clearly it was very much a divisive service and if you had money, you were able to get help. Also, in those days, we didn't have a lot of real science behind what was happening."

Graham, originally from East Kilbride and now living in West Lothian, recalls ruefully how as a naive student he turned up at his local hospital and suggested starting up a radio station.

"They looked us up and down and said are you sure you can do this?' and we pretty soon found out it was a lot more hard work than we thought it would be."

It was Graham's grandfather who had given him the idea.

"He was in hospital suffering from lung cancer and one of the things he told me was that when you're lying there all day long, you're looking for a bit of entertainment.

“People in hospital don't want to be protected from what's outside. They want to know about the news and what's on at the cinema.

"Even though someone is in for six months, they want to keep in contact with what is going on and that's part of what the radio station does."

Graham revealed that his own family were very grateful to the NHS for the way his mother, who is recovering from a stroke, was looked after in hospital recently.

"The charge nurse was very, very helpful to all the family and to my mother. She had had a stroke herself, but was back working at the hospital. That's the sort of fantastic person who is working for the NHS."

Southern Sound presenters themselves go round the wards three times a week and take requests.

Graham laughed. "The next week, patients will argue with you if you didn't get exactly the right record, but that's part of the relationship and the chat.

"We don't have play lists. What we have is what people ask us for so we have an enormous collection which ranges from Sydney Devine right through to the latest pop music."

Southern Sound has 21 presenters, but is always looking for more volunteers, particularly now that it plans to become a 24-hour station.

"We have a lot of people who actually don't sleep and listen at all hours," said Graham.

Volunteers range from 16-year-olds to those in their 70s.

"You don't need to have particular skills, but you do need to be able to talk," said Graham, who is not deficient in that department.

"It's even better if you can talk to a blank wall," he grinned, "because that's what you end up doing some of the time and you need to be able to sparkle."

Graham obviously loves the job. "I'm here regularly once, sometimes twice a week."

The other week, he interviewed Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon.

"Her requests ranged from ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ by Wham!, which she was a bit embarrassed about, to John Lennon's ‘Imagine’."

And did he flirt with Nicola on air? No comment.

RADIO Clyde presenter Gina McKie is a picture of glowing health and brimming with energy.

Yet, Gina reveals, when she was in her teens, she was seriously ill with the auto-immune disease, Lupus.

There is no sign of the disease in adulthood, but when she was at school, her hair fell out and her eyesight was badly affected.

Gina has her own NHS hero. "I was very lucky because I had a great family doctor who would come to our house in Milngavie to see me every day.

"As a qualified hypnotherapist and Reiki master, I believe that the mind and body are connected.

"Eventually, I was given the all clear by my GP which is very rare.

"I still have an under-active thyroid but I am okay now."

She adds that her own experience of ill health has given her an understanding of just how wonderful the individuals are who work in and volunteer for the NHS.

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Radio Clyde DJ Gina McKie joined NHS director of nursing Eunice Muir and hospital radio DJ Graham Turnball at the Southern General Hospital to record a programme about the NHS Diamond Awards