Recent Interview With The Local Press
Recently, an interview with a local press establishment took place to publicise the views and work of the charity. Detailed below are the questions and answers as provided by our Chairman Peter Tolson.
When did you first find out about the hospital?
I first found out about the hospital around 1993. I was working as a training manager at AWE where we used to employ experts in various subjects to train the workforce. I employed George Stephens a lay preacher for a series of lectures. During lunch one day, he happened to mention that he was looking for care staff to work in Romania. Knowing my wife had talked about aid work, I mentioned that Vanessa might be interested and had the right qualifications necessary.
travelled out that year, and I followed on a year later as an engineer.
Stephens had travelled to Romania with the World Health Organisation at the fall
of Caucescou. They were taken to the village as being the poorest in Romania.
he returned the following year, he was sent to another area. He thought that
this was self-defeating, as all the good work done in the previous year would
run to neglect.
here, the NNRT was born, and we have been supporting the same village ever
How would you describe the hospital?
The hospital can be likened to an old neglected
Victorian type institution. It is cold, stark and foreboding. When we arrived
there were no proper toilet facilities and little bathing opportunity. There was
no hot water and poor lighting throughout the building. The building was damp
and draughty. It was very much like horror movie depiction of asylums for the
What are the staffing levels like?
Are staff trained in a similar way to those in the west?
Staffing levels of late have been improved
dramatically. In the past, staff did not want to work at Vulcan because of the
poor state of the facility, and the poor funding levels. We were told that the
improved staffing levels were directly attributable to the improvements the
charity has made over the years and the levels of support we give. Psychiatric
staff in Romania are given a basic nursing training, and only after qualifying
do they specialise in psychiatric care. The levels of training vary from
competent right down to “possibly better than nothing”. Some staff really do
care, but others do not. In past years, staffing levels were so low that the
hospital was locked down for a 2 hour period leaving the gate warden as the only
staff in residence before a couple of night staff came on duty. This has now
What medical treatment do the
Patients receive the most rudimentary
medical care. Because of the scarcity of drugs, dosage levels are not in line
with current UK policy. Drugs are expensive, and they cannot afford to pay for
present, a doctor, whether it is GP or psychiatrist visits for a few hours a
week. Previously they had a full time GP at the hospital, but she left and was
not replaced. We have installed a dentist facility at the hospital, and pay a
local dentist to come in periodically to treat the patient’s teeth. Because of
their high starch diet, the state of the patient’s teeth is bad. Preventative
medicine is not effective as toothpaste costs money, which the hospital
How many patients are in the
hospital and what are their long-term prospects?
There are around 150 patients at the hospital. The
numbers of patients fluctuate, but the bed numbers stay constant. We have had
instances where 2 or 3 patients share a bed. These days this doesn’t happen.
term, these patients are generally there for the length of their lives. They are
generally chronic cases with little hope of a cure. More recently we have found
that the less severe cases have been discharged into the community due to lack
of funding of the hospital. These patients are by no means cured. They are just
regarded as being non-dangerous to the community and have to survive by relying
What real differences have the
We can only judge what are real differences by what
we see and what we are told. When we first came to the hospital, there were no
smiling faces. Patients had no real clothing or footwear. Most stayed in bed all
day and were generally sedated to keep them quiet. The patients were scared of
the villagers and the villagers were scared of the patients. Many confrontations
between the two groups were witnessed.
patients do smile; most do have access to some reasonable clothing and footwear.
The villagers and the patients do mix to a certain extent. The patient’s
reaction to the charity speaks volumes. When we arrive to work, we are greeted
with hugs and kisses. They know that for a time at least, they will get some
loving care and attention.
physical changes we have made are enormous. We have installed showers and
toilets. We have repaired main drains. We have installed a boiler for heating.
We are rewiring the whole hospital. The list goes on and grows larger each year.
We have renovated the cooking area, made shelters in the grounds. These
levels of improvements are only made possible by the support of the caring
public who donate time and money to these poor unfortunate people.
If the charity ceased working at
the hospital today, what difference would it make?
If the charity ceased working at the
hospital, the institution would continue. It would however revert to subsistence
levels. Most of our installations would fall into disrepair sooner or later. The
dentist facility would cease immediately. Funding for food, heating and
maintenance would virtually disappear to mere existence levels. Patients would
get no genuine love and care. Although the staff do their best, they just do not
have the time to spare. At the end of the day, it is just a job to them. Yes,
the hospital would survive, but at what cost to human suffering.
How does the Romanian health
The Romanian health service in theory works
just the way it does in the UK. There is free health care for all. In practice,
it is not so simple. The state of the Romanian economy means that everybody is
looking for ways to cut costs. This is generally achieved by having staff that
are low paid, and equipment levels which does not take into account of new
technology. Equipment and buildings are old, and very few hospitals can boast
life support machinery. Care is generally as good as they can give within the
budget available to them. Many people state that when they visit the doctors,
they have to have someone open the door for them because their arms are being
used to carry gifts for the doctors and staff. It is the only way people know
how to get the best care they can. The knowledge is there, but it is of little
use if they don’t have the tools to follow the knowledge through.
Q What effect does the country’s financial situation have on the hospital, and the village of Mina-1-Mai?
The effect of the poor economy on the
hospital is that they are relying to a large extent on the generosity of foreign
gifts from charities such as ours. Because Romania is no longer in the
headlines, the number of charitable institutions has dramatically dropped as has
the levels of gift aid. One comment heard from the village recently is “that
we would be better off having a war, at least we would get some foreign aid!”
village is equally poor. People live in the poorest quality housing and eat the
cheapest food they can find. Unemployment is rife, and unemployment benefit is
not nearly enough to live on.
How would you describe the village
The village of Mina-1-Mai can be likened to
what I imagine life to be like over a 100 years ago in England. There are no
roads, and people live in ramshackle houses, which quite frankly we would
condemn. From the outside, the village is very picturesque, nestled in the
valley between high peaks. The surrounding countryside is covered with forest.
In summer, it is extremely hot and humid, and in winter there is always deep
snow and extremely low temperatures. There is water and electricity in the
village but no gas. Supplies of both these utilities are unreliable at the best
of times. Both water and electricity tend to stop frequently due to break down.
What is the historical background
of the hospital?
The name Mina-1-Mai means Mine of the 1st
of May, which is the national day of the miner. The village is a coal mining
community. When the mine closed down in the sixties the villagers had to learn
to live off the land.
buildings left by the mine were taken over by the government and converted. The
mine canteen into a school, and the mine offices into the Hospital. The building
is by no means ideal for the purpose, but in Romania, nothing goes to waste.
What are the charity’s long-term
The charity has many long term objectives.
These do tend to change slightly as priorities alter.
main aim is to continue to provide long-term support and care to the hospital
inmates who are indeed our brothers and sisters. We intend to continue the
renovations for as long as our finances allow with the ultimate aim of producing
a facility comparable to the UK. We aim to continue to support the village and
the school for as long as we are needed, or as long as the charity exists.
What motivates the team’s
In a word, “love”. Love of the country,
which for reasons, which are no fault of the people, has fallen on hard times.
Love of the people, who would literally share with you their last crust of
bread. Love of the hospital patients, who trust us unconditionally, and return
our love with interest, year after year.
With images of suffering on our TV
screens every day, how can you justify the effort spent in a single village in
With the best will in the world, we are unable to
solve all the worlds’ problems. People tend to lend support to the area of
tragedy that is in the limelight. When interest moves on, what happens to those
places? Sometimes they survive to go on to great things. Generally it doesn’t
happen like that. When the support ceases, the improved standards start to
decline, gradually at first following an accelerated curve. Our charity asked
the question. If this is likely to happen, why did we prolong the agony only to
end up as bad as we started.
returning to the same spot each year, we build up the trust of the people that
we will not abandon them. Another effect is that they will take more care of the
improvements knowing that we will not do it again if it is destroyed. Romania is
as poor today as it was 10 years ago. The problem as we see it is that pride
will not allow them to declare this fact.
Is Romania no longer
‘fashionable’ as a focus of charity work?
Romania is definitely not fashionable any
more. The most that the average citizens see of Romania is when we see images of
illegal immigrants trying to get into the UK. These images have done more to
harm our efforts than any incident that has happened during our existence. Quite
frankly, this is not what the average Romanian is like. They are a fiercely
proud people who are often too embarrassed to ask for help. The fact remains
that there are still people dying on the streets from starvation. There are
still children packed in orphanages because nobody wants them. Children are
still living on the streets begging because they have nothing. People are still
dying in hospitals because they lack the funds or equipment to save them.
you asked me if this was fashionable, then I would say no. If you asked, do they
still need our help? Then the answer is a definite yes!
Would the hospital be different if
charities had never visited, and are there any other undiscovered institutions
This is a difficult question. Logic tells me
that things would be entirely different if no charities ever visited. It would
be a physical impossibility for the government to provide the level of funding
to achieve the levels they are today. Without a doubt, many more people would
have died and staff motivation would have been at a very low level. Nobody can
say for certain that this is the case, but it is what I truly believe. As for
any other undiscovered institutions? The word undiscovered is implying that
nobody knows they exist, so therefore they cannot exist under these terms. We
only know what the authorities want us to know. The Romanian people are
generally embarrassed about their existence, but have no other option, so under
these conditions it may be possible. People only realise how bad things are when
they see something better.
Former Eastern Bloc countries are
striving to become part of the European union. If Romania joins, will it have
any bearing on the state of the hospital?
I really do believe that joining the
European union would be the making of the country. As the borders open up, so
would the influx of wealth and talent from around Europe. This is the one
scenario when I can foresee that the charity will cease to function. Even so,
Romania will still find things hard. They have many years of catching up to do.
They will have new talents to learn and customs to get used to. It will not be
an instant fix, but I can only see good things coming from this move in the long
term for the hospital and the country.