Tributes paid to key voice in debate over NHS

A YOUNG Scottish woman who was drawn into the independence referendum debate after she received life-saving treatment on the NHS in England has died.
Sally Russell talks to Scotland on Sunday in a cafe in Glasgow's west end. Picture: Robert PerrySally Russell talks to Scotland on Sunday in a cafe in Glasgow's west end. Picture: Robert Perry
Sally Russell talks to Scotland on Sunday in a cafe in Glasgow's west end. Picture: Robert Perry

Sally Russell, a cystic fibrosis sufferer who passed away aged 27, rose to prominence when she wrote an eloquent essay in Scotland on Sunday about her experience of getting a lung transplant at the Freeman hospital in Newcastle.

In her essay Russell said that her first-rate treatment at a specialist centre in England, which takes patients from across the UK, encouraged her to volunteer for the Better Together campaign.

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Tributes to Russell were led by the former Doctor Who star, David Tennant, a family friend, and her grandfather, the Very Rev Dr James Simpson, a former moderator of the Church of Scotland who has written his latest book to raise funds for cystic fibrosis and dedicated it to his grand-daughter.

Simpson, whose book is called The Magic of Words, said Russell and her husband Jay were “an inspiration”.

He said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with Jay at this time, and we also give thanks to the NHS for the amazing care she received in three hospitals, Raigmore in Inverness, Freeman and Gartnaval.

“Sally’s courage was an inspiration to many. One of the highlights of her life was when she was on Blue Peter aged 11 when they ran their Christmas Appeal in aid of cystic fibrosis.”

Tennant, whose father, the Very Rev Sandy McDonald, was also a former Kirk moderator, said: “I remember with love and affection my meeting with Sally who has now sadly passed away after her courageous fight with CF.” The actor visited Russell in hospital when she was being treated for the debilitating illness.

In support of Simpson’s book launch, Tennant said: “I gather that it is a great read and look forward to doing so as soon as possible. I honour your huge financial contribution to research into CF.”

Proceeds from the sales of the book will go towards research into the disease which ultimately claimed Russell’s life, despite undergoing a double lung transplant in 2011.

Diagnosed with CF as a baby, Russell had a succession of hospital visits as she grew up in the Highlands. She became captain of Tain Academy and went on to Glasgow University where she graduated with a first-class honours degree. She died last month.

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A Church of Scotland spokesman said last night: “Our thoughts and prayers are with Sally’s family.”

In her Scotland on Sunday article, Russell wrote: “The NHS has been a fixture of my life since the day I was born. We can have the comfort of knowing in the back of our minds that there are specialist centres around the UK dealing with the most serious of problems, but it is only when you need them that you understand how vital that network is. I decided that I was going to volunteer with the Better Together campaign. I’ve never been involved in politics before and I don’t think of myself as very political. But I know that my experience, my story, is something that has to be a part of this debate. The NHS doesn’t recognise borders, it recognises sick people. I don’t want that to change.”