FOR almost 40 years NHS stood for National Health Service for ex nurse Sue Ashworth.
Now the same letters have a different meaning for Sue even though she is still in the business of caring.
But since retirement just over 12 months ago the Delph resident is looking after animals rather than people.
Injured and poorly squirrels and wild rabbits have been brought to Sue’s village home in need of attention.
But the vast majority of her ‘patients’ are creatures whose numbers have plummeted to a point where they have been included on Britain’s first official Red List of endangered species.
That’s why NHS now unofficially represents nurturing hedgehogs’ survival.
Sue attends to dozens of the spiky creatures at Hog Manor releasing many back into the wild.
Nelson and Annie rather than Sonic or Mrs Tiywinkle have been two of the lucky ones released after weeks of care in a specially adapted shed in Sue’s garden.
Others – like four tiny hoglets found in Kirklees – didn’t survive, adding to alarming statistics that has seen the mammals’ population drop from around 30 million in the 1950s to less than a million currently.
Road accidents, loss of habitat, intensive farming methods, even badgers have contributed to the loss
“I had always been interested in hedgehogs and was a member of the preservation society,” said the one-time operating theatre manager at the Royal Oldham Hospital.
“So, when I retired to fill the time, I thought I would set up my own hedgehog sanctuary-as you do,” she laughed.
“I had already written letters to lot of vets and charities saying I was retiring, I was thinking of starting something up to help animals and would they be interested.
“Basically, the only replies I got back were related to hedgehogs, Wildlife UK and cats.”
And so Sue opted to upscale her previous volunteering work and dedicate her time to caring for hogs.
“After 38 years as a nurse I knew about medicines and the surgical side but I also did a diploma in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation.
“If you come across something new you can always research it. There are lots of groups across the country offering each other advice.”
Sue has taken in around 80 hedgehogs since embarking on her new vocation releasing the shy and nocturnal creatures back into the wild at every opportunity.
They leave with a dab of nail varnish on their spikes for recognition should they be found in need once more
Her purpose-built shed houses 20 ‘cages’ to care for her patients. There is also a small outdoor run while Sue is in the process of developing a larger sanctuary in the garden for hogs unable to revert to life in the wild.
Her laudable efforts come at a cost self-funding the project herself helped by public donations.
“I do have an arrangement with Ian McConnell vets where I don’t pay for consultations,” she said.
“But it can become expensive when you factor in the costs of medicine especially in baby season and the fact hedgehogs can have two litters a year.”
Animal lovers not only from Saddleworth bring hedgehogs to Sue. Sharon McGarry was one such person who contacted the Independent to highlight Sue’s work
“I was so moved by what she does as well as all the other sanctuary owners across the country They provide this service out of the goodness of their hearts without any funding whatsoever” she said.
“I asked her what she has to provide apart from her commitment She told me they eat cat food especially Whiskas! and also cat biscuits.
“She also uses lots of puppy training mats. So, if you have a local sanctuary what about finding out what they need and drop something in? I know I’ll be doing what I can to help.”
Sue’s sanctuary now has its own Facebook page Hog Manor Hedgehog Rescue and website www.hogmanor.co.uk