Published: 20 October 2001

HOLBY City star George Irving said thanks to real-life NHS heroes during a visit to Sunderland Royal Hospital.

The North East actor, who plays fearsome cardiac surgeon Anton Meyer in the BBC hospital drama, proved a big hit with patients and staff when he opened the hospital’s new haematology department yesterday.

George unveiled a plaque, as a thank-you to the ward’s caring staff, who treated his late mother, Nell.

The 51-year-old star, who was brought up in South Shields, was given a tour of the new department and chatted to nursing staff and patients, including Joyce Wright, 68, from Fulwell, Brian McBain, 60, from Barnes and Dawn Witten, 29, from Seaham.

He said: “This place is very special to me. I know how valuable the work that they do is. I’ve nothing but praise for them. It’s just such a positive place.

“When they asked me to come and do this, I had no hesitation. I don’t do this kind of thing very often. Yes, they wanted me to do it because I’m ‘on the box’, but I accepted because I’m my mother’s son.”

“The whole time my mother spent at the hospital was a very life-enhancing experience. That’s the reason I am here.

“Holby City is a television programme. What goes on here is only too real.”

Sadly, Nell died two years ago, aged 73, but George, his father (also called George) and their family have kept in touch with staff at the hospital.

The actor also praised the new facilities in the haematology department, saying: “What I have seen here is something Anton Meyer would approve of. It is excellence being rewarded with results.

“It doesn’t look like a hospital. It’s nicely decorated, comfortable and friendly. That makes a huge difference to the effectiveness of people’s treatment.”

David Graham, Sunderland Hospital Trust chairman, thanked George for agreeing to open the new department and said: “We are very proud of the developments at Sunderland Royal Hospital, which were brought about by the hard work and commitment of the staff.”

The new haematology department provides chemotherapy, blood transfusions and support and advice to other departments.

It will be able to treat up to 16 in-patients and 30 day-case patients at once, with procedures lasting between half an hour and nine hours.

George Irving lived in South Shields until he was 20 and visits his family there at least three or four times a year.

Before Holby City, he made his name in theatre and has also appeared on TV in Cadfael, Dangerfield, Morse, Peak Practice and Wing and a Prayer.

Sunderland Echo