Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke
History of NICHS


How We Started

In June 1946 Northern Ireland had just enjoyed one year of peace following the end of the Second World War.

Rationing was still in place.  Rations were well balanced in terms of nutrition and the smaller, but adequate, portion sizes meant that in general people were fit and healthy. Some families who had gardens or lived in rural areas were able to supplement their rations by growing vegetables. However families who lived in built up inner–city areas could not grow their own vegetables, and so found it harder to have a healthy balanced diet.

Many parts of Belfast were still to be rebuilt after the 1941 Blitz and homelessness was a growing issue. Servicemen who returned from war with physical disabilities or battle fatigue, as Post Traumatic Stress Order was then known, found it difficult to get employment.

Even before the War, Northern Ireland was seen by the Government as an area of deprivation, with more poverty than other areas of the United Kingdom. For the first time the deprivation that existed in some areas of Northern Ireland became apparent to the general public. and paved the way for the social reform that came after the War.

Tuberculosis had been in Ireland since the 1600s. The disease reached its peak in England and Wales in 1850 and in Scotland by 1870. However, by 1901 it was still on the increase in Ireland. Northern Ireland had the highest death rate from TB of any region of the United Kingdom. TB is caused by a mycobacterium and spreads between people by coughing, breathing and breastfeeding. The disease was able to spread more easily in poorer areas, where whole families might be suffering from malnutrition, living in one room and sharing one bed.

It was in this Northern Ireland of 1946 that 16 people decided to set up a Northern Ireland branch of the National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis.  Their first act was to organise a public meeting to educate people about how TB. Within 3 months they had agreed that as well as disseminating information about the disease, the organisation should also become involved in the welfare of people already suffering from TB.

As the extent of TB diminished, the organisation evolved, first increasing its focus to all diseases of the chest and heart in 1959, then expanding its remit further 1976, 40 years ago, to include stroke. Who knows what the next 70 years will bring. Our vision is a Northern Ireland free from chest, heart and stroke illnesses. If in 70 years’ time there is no longer a need for this organisation, we will have succeeded, but until that day comes, our promise to the people of Northern Ireland is that we will continue to be on your side.

Then and Now

Year What Happened What still happens today

Started as the Northern Ireland Branch of the National Association for Prevention of Tuberculosis on 14th June 1946


1946 Organised public meetings to spread health messages regarding TB Organise health promotion campaigns about stroke, heart disease and COPD
1946 First Christmas Appeal selling Christmas seals (stickers) Nowadays we need raise £3m per year to do our work. 80% of this comes from the general public so our Christmas Appeal is still very important.
1947 Set up Advice Bureau to give advice to TB patients Our co–ordinators still give support and advice to people living with long term health conditions.
1948 Sent a deputation to the Minister of Labour and National Insurance about issues affecting TB patients Campaigning at Assembly level is still a key part of our work.
1951 Organised handicrafts as therapy for patients in the TB sanatoria Art, crafts, music, drama, reading and exercises are still an important part of therapy in our support groups
1955 Started working in partnership with the Northern Ireland Tuberculosis Authority on after–care for people leaving sanatoria. Still working closely with today’s health authorities, the Trusts, to develop and deliver new Programmes.
1957 Distributed 10,000 anti–smoking blotters to schools in Belfast We still tell children about the dangers of smoking through our Chester’s Challenge Schools Programme.
1958 First research grant given – £35 to Dr Knox for equipment to use in research into Chronic Bronchitis. We now spend £300k per annum on research projects being carried out at Queen’s or Ulster University.
1959 Name changed to The Northern Ireland Chest and Heart Association  
1963 Started to look at expanding fundraising to be more than the Christmas Appeal Across Northern Ireland people raise thousands of pounds for us through a wide range of events, including our Step Up events, new for 2016.
1965 First appeal letters sent to large industrial firms and banks in NI – £210 received from 6 companies, almost £4000 in today’s money. We have around 30 local companies supporting us and raising over £150k each year.
1966 First mention donation in lieu of flowers in the records – £87 in memory of the late John Galbraith. Nowadays families and friends across Northern Ireland donate around £230k per year in lieu of flowers.
1969 Scholarship scheme for specialised training for nurses. Pharmacy and social work students now meet with members of our support groups to understand what it is like living with a health condition.
1971 Ireland and British Lions rugby star, Willie John McBride, took part in a BBC broadcast. We still have support from local sports stars and celebrities, such as Ulster Rugby and Ireland’s Chris Henry, singer Malachi Cush and Miss Ireland 2015 Sacha Livingstone.
1973 First Stroke Club set up in East Belfast We now have 21 Stroke Activity Groups all across Northern Ireland
1973 Over £14,000 (over £120,000 today) was left to the organisation in people’s Wills during 1973. We get almost £1,000,000 each year from people who have remembered us in their Wills.
1976 Name changed to The Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke Association  
1978 First fundraising support groups established We now have 8 fundraising support groups, organising local events and raising money for us.
1984 NICHS was the first ever Charity of the Year for Belfast City Marathon Nowadays around 1000 people do the Belfast City Marathon and other running events to raise money for us each year.
1984 NI Coronary Prevention Group set up under the auspices of NICHSA

NICHS helps organise the All Party Group on Heart Disease and Stroke at Stormont


1985 Building on Dublin Road purchased. The building was destroyed after a break in and fire in 2003. It was rebuilt and reopened in 2006.
1987 First Cardiac Support Group established NICHS offers support to the Cardiac Support Groups in Northern Ireland.
1987 We offered cholesterol measurements to people attending the Ideal Home Exhibition and this soon developed into offering health checks. NICHS carries out around 1000 full health checks each year
1994 First dedicated Stroke Family Support Coordinator is employed. The original Stroke Family Support Co–ordinator is still with us and is now part of a team of 12 who cover all of Northern Ireland.
1997 Young Stroke Scheme established We now have 7 Young Stroke Activity Groups dotted around Northern Ireland
1998 First Highway to Health established in Strabane There are now 67 routes across Northern Ireland.
2001 First Carers Group set up Carers Groups still meet across Northern Ireland
2002 Health and Homeless Programme developed alongside the Simon Community. The average life expectancy is 47 for a homeless man and 43 for a homeless woman. Our Health and Homeless Programme works with around 800 people each year.
2004 Schools Work began with Chester’s Playground games NICHS now reach over 2,300 pupils each year with health talks and our Chester’s Challenge programme for primary schools.
2006 North West office opened in Spencer Road in the Waterside We moved to the new North West Office on the Springtown Industrial Estate.
2007 “Taking Control” Self Management Programme first delivered by NICHS Over 1,100 people have taken part in around 100 programmes since 2007.
2007 NICHS extends its work to include Respiratory Support Groups There are now 20 groups in the Respiratory Support Network
2010 Post–Rehab Exercise Programme (PREP) developed alongside the Southern Trust PREP now rolled out across all 5 Health and Social Care Trusts
2013 Community Health Champions trained in 2 areas of Belfast Community Health Champions continue to work in their own communities spreading health messages.
2014 Our Health Checks are reviewed to ensure they comply with the latest clinical guidelines and scientific evidence. We have been successfully delivering health checks for over 25 years. We now offer a full 30 minute NICHS Well Check.
2015 Andrew Dougal steps down as Chief Executive of NICHS in October 2015 after more than 30 years in the job. Declan Cunnane takes over the role of Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke Chief Executive.
2016 NICHS create recipe book for the homeless A new recipe book designed to teach residents of homeless hostels how they can incorporate more fruit and vegetables into their diet. This was after a health study that found 43% of people who are homeless cited poor diet and nutrition as a major concern for them.
2017 We launch the Breathing Better Programme. Previously patients took part in a number of treatment plans delivered by different areas of the health service and voluntary sector. Breathing Better pulls these plans together into one coherent, co-ordinated pathway which marks a significant step forward for respiratory support in Northern Ireland.


Read our new 70th Booklet containing our Historybooklet from 1946– 2016

Click the image to read more…