An Open Letter to the UK National Screening Committee

Every year we lose 600 young people to un-diagnosed heart conditions. These aren't just figures plucked from thin air. This is real and this is happening.

Dear UK NSC,

Yesterday I was horrified to discover that you had voted NO to a UK Cardiac Screening Programme for young persons aged 12 - 39.

The anger... the disgust... the disbelief... this decision left me with is almost impossible to put into words.

Because what sane person - sorry, what sane committee - could ever vote in such a direction? What living, breathing human being would ever believe that, actually, there's no real need for young people to have this kind of easy access to cardiac screenings. I mean, sure, young people duh... it's only those 50+ that have heart issues right?

I want to tell you a story. It isn't my story to tell... not really, anyway. But it's a story that has shaped mine and my loved one's lives beyond recognition. A story that could have spun so very differently had screenings such as this been readily available. Had we been forced to face reality long before it was too late.

On Christmas Day 2008, my Dad my sister and I were sat watching festive TV after a feast of a dinner. My sister was 25, I 17. We'd had a fantastic day full of laughter and love, as you do at Christmas. There were no signs, no hints that anything would change that. We all had "full of beans". We all felt... fine.

I will never forget the moment my sister turned to my Dad, her face a deathly white.

"I don't feel too well, Dad..."

It was probably about 10 seconds later that she was having a fit, her body contorted into shapes I didn't know possible and her eyes rolling into the back of her head. I remember being fixed to the armchair, staring in disbelief as the walls closed in around me. I heard nothing but a ringing in my ears until she stopped fitting and fell into a heap on top of my Dad. That's when his screams filled my ears. That's a sound that I'll never, ever forget.

I ran to the phone and called 999, a numb calmness taking control as I recounted to my Dad instructions. He carried out CPR onto her lifeless body whilst I kept the phone gripped in my hand. Minutes later, the flashing lights and siren of the ambulance brought me back into the room, and I fell into a bundle of wails, the emergency team pushing me into the kitchen away from the sight.

Lara had been hit by a cardiac arrest: four cardiac arrests, to be exact. The survival rate of cardiac arrests outside of hospital in young people is around 5%.

She was healthy. There was nothing wrong with her. So why was this happening?

By some miracle, Lara survived. She was in a coma from Christmas Day through until New Year's Eve before leaving hospital on January 10 with the addition of an ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator) inside her chest. They said it would never happen again... that it was a freak accident. The ICD was "just in case."

Until it happened again in 2013. Luckily the ICD did its job. It kept her alive, again.

Now tell me that there isn't enough evidence to prove that cardiac risk in the young is a real thing? Show me the unclear data. Explain to me why on earth you wouldn't want to diagnose problems like my sister's before it's too late.

My sister was lucky. But she so easily could not have been. And so many others aren't.

Every year we lose 600 young people to un-diagnosed heart conditions. These aren't just figures plucked from thin air. This is real and this is happening.

Sudden Cardiac Death doesn't show any signs that it's coming. It's called sudden for a reason. It strikes when you're least expecting it, and it can happen to absolutely anyone.

It's clear that this comes down to money. Funding. Cuts.

But what is the price of a human life? Of 600 young lives, every year?

What is the price of my sister's health?

You've said that there will be no further reviews on this case until 2018/2019 (by which time 2,000 more young people will have died due to lack of diagnosis). What I am asking you, what I am pleading you, is that you bring this forward. That you re-address it right now. That you value human life above wealth.

I'm pretty sure that this letter won't do much to change that. But that's not going to stop me trying.

Because I for one believe that doing nothing is NEVER an option.


Amber Bell

Please support my bid to amend this decision by signing my petition on It will only take a few seconds. Let's work together for change.


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