A Kent farmer believes he “might not have been here much longer” without a potentially life-saving free health check he was offered at Ashford Market.

Ed Lovejoy, who farms at Hope Farm, Wittersham, was persuaded to have the NHS check by Hugh Richards, a volunteer with the Farming Community Network (FCN).

“I thought I was fit and healthy,” Ed recalled, “but Hugh convinced me that I should sit down and have a chat with the health professional during one of her monthly visits. It turned out that my cholesterol level was sky high.”

Ed was given an immediate fast track referral to a doctor by Sarah Dimmock, a senior health check adviser working with the NHS’ outreach team, and was put straight on medication.  He has since changed his diet, lost two stone in two months and is confident that his next check-up will reveal a much lower cholesterol level.

Unsurprisingly, Ed was full of praise for the monthly health check-ups coordinated, promoted and supported by the FCN and held on market days with the full blessing of auctioneers Hobbs Parker.

“This is clearly a really excellent initiative,” he said. “I thought I was fit and well, but I might not have been here much longer.

“I’m a typical farmer and would never have gone for a check-up as I didn’t have any symptoms. If a farmer ever rings the doctor and says: ‘I don’t feel well’, you know they really don’t feel well.”

Sarah said high cholesterol and high blood pressure were two of the most common issues she discovered while checking out famers who took advantage of her monthly visits. “Farmers tend to be older, they don’t retire and they are inevitably busy,” she pointed out. “They just tend to carry on without complaining.”

The health checks are free to market visitors who are between 40 and 74 and who aren’t already on medication for high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol. “I’ve had some really important conversations about health issues with farmers who would probably never have got themselves checked out if they hadn’t come across me while in the market,” said Sarah.

The monthly Ashford Market events are the first to have been held in the South East and have been getting busier month by month, helped by FCN volunteers like Hugh and James Barber encouraging and cajoling visitors to sit down and chat to Sarah. There is a private office available for confidential chats.

“People were initially wary, but it’s been getting steadily busier,” said Sarah. “Several farmers have come back the following month to thank me for raising the alarm after being referred to their GP and being put on medication. Many don’t have a clue what their blood pressure is before talking to me.”

Hobbs Parker partner Peter Kingwill said hosting the sessions reflected the ‘family’ ethos of the cattle market and said the company was “only too pleased” to play its part. He said the benefit of using the venue for an outreach service was that farmers could take advantage of it while waiting for stock to be sold.

Hugh Richards, James Barber and Ed Lovejoy