BEING diagnosed with a long-term health problem should not stop people from leading a full and satisfying life.

That is the message being given to people who sign up for the "life changing" NHS Experts Patients Programme, starting in Malvern later this month.

The six-week course was originally set up in 2002 to give patients with long-term conditions, ranging from asthma to coronary heart disease, the support they needed to manage their own illness.

It is run by volunteer tutors who themselves have a long-term condition, such as 62-year-old MS sufferer Glen Green, one of the very first people to attend the course.

After Mrs Green, a former nurse from Gilberts End, near Hanley Swan, saw the benefits of the course, she immediately signed up to become a tutor.

In the years since, she has helped dozens of people regain self-confidence and improve quality of life.

"People tend to be very hesitant when they first come along, but they learn to share what it is that makes a difference to their life, and it's amazing how many common denominators there are," she said.

"The course is about getting people to suggest what would be useful to them. We work right across the board, and can talk about anything from symptoms, to diet and exercise or anything else."

Mrs Green said it was very easy for people with long-term conditions to become isolated but the course tries to show them that does not have to be the case.

"I've seen people who would have really given up on their lives by now were it not for the course," she said. "It can put a light back into people's lives when everything seems to have gone out. It really can be life-changing."

One of Mrs Green's first patients on the course was Lorraine Barson, who is registered blind and suffers from painful muscle condition fibromyalgia.

Since she had to take medical retirement from the NHS in 1999, Mrs Barson has founded the hugely successful Malvern Hills Gymnas-tics Club, which now teaches more than 600 children per week.

She said the course had made a massive difference to her day-to-day life, and would recommend it to anyone.

"Before I did the course, I just stayed at home and did nothing for nearly two years, but look at what I do now," said Mrs Barson.

"This course put me in a very positive frame of mind, and I wouldn't be doing what I do now without it."

The Expert Patients Programme is free and open to anyone with a long-term condition of any nature.

Courses comprise one two-and-a-half hour session per week for six weeks, and the next course starts at Christchurch Hall, in Avenue Road, Malvern, on Friday, January 26.

For details or to sign up, call Tracey Pountney on 01905 760049.