Improving the lives of people with heart conditions in Sussex

Our story begins back in 1970 when cardiologist Douglas Chamberlain arrived in Brighton and started work to open a cardiac department. There were six acute hospitals at the time but none of them had dedicated cardiac facilities. The Royal Sussex County Hospital was in the process of opening an Intensive Treatment Unit (ITU) and Douglas (with the help from colleagues) was given a small area for the first four Coronary Care beds. He also started a clinic to give patients advice, conduct tests and provide specialist medical treatment.

In 1979 Douglas was joined by Dr Richard Vincent, the clinic had become a department and was now serving a population of over 3 million people. Many kind patients wanted to pay for the specialist care and services they received and ‘The Cardiac Department Discretionary Fund’ was set up, the fund was used to buy equipment and support the growth of the department even further.

The discretionary fund was also able to support other areas of cardiac care including local research and community resuscitation training programmes, one of these was ‘Heart Guard’ the second of its type in Europe. By 1984 over 20,000 citizens had been trained and as a result, many lives saved; successes that would have been very unlikely without bystander intervention.

In 1987 ‘The Cardiac Department Discretionary Fund’ was incorporated as a charitable company and called the Brighton Heart Support Trust. The charity funded Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) on two railway stations, we believe that these were the first two publicly accessible defibrillators in Europe.

The Brighton Heart Support Trust continued to fund innovative equipment, research and training programmes within an ever-increasing radius and as a result started to fund projects outside the immediate vicinity of Brighton. Notable projects include but are not limited to

  • The first ever Cardiac Rehabilitation Nurse and service in Sussex – there’s now rehabilitation services dotted across both counties, all funded by the NHS.
  • The first Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) Machine in Sussex – it uses light to create high resolution tomographic images and can be used to examine the coronary arteries.
  • The first Electrophysiology Study (EPS) in Sussex – used to diagnose and correct arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm).
  • The first ever Heart Failure Nurse in Sussex – today there’s five, all funded by the NHS.

In 2006 it was decided that due to our now county-wide area of operation, the charity should change its name once more to better reflect our commitment to improving heart health for the people of Sussex and its associated hospitals. The Brighton Heart Support Trust became The Sussex Heart Charity (SHC) as we are known today, and we continue to work towards our mission to:


the care, treatment and rehabilitation of people suffering from cardiac conditions.


research, new services, staff development and training at Sussex hospitals.


community projects, awareness and lifesaving Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs).

A word from our Founder

“It was a great privilege to be associated with the development of a department at the Royal Sussex County Hospital dedicated to Cardiology.  On my very first day in post, I found two rooms on the ground floor in the main building that were used to store unwanted furniture, with a key in the door.  I removed everything into the corridor except for a desk.  Fortunately, our administrators (we did not have managers at the time) tolerated this. We were also given an out-patient clinic that became very busy, so we set up a Saturday morning session for those who could not be expected to endure long waits.  Many sent donations that were put into a fund that evolved into the Sussex Heart Charity.

The Charity has now very fortunately passed to experienced and dedicated hands. Its future and its value are not in doubt. The improvement in cardiac care has been paramount and is widely recognised.  The challenges brought by cardiac arrest are better understood and automated defibrillators have been placed on every railway station in Sussex as well as other situations open to the public. The need for continual financial support must, however, be recognised.  For many reasons, not least the on-going saving of lives, Sussex would be much the poorer without its Charity.”

Hon. Professor Douglas Chamberlain CBE MD FRCP