A RETIRED couple are celebrating with an early Christmas present after driving off with a new car they won in a raffle.

Billy Salmon bought a single ticket in Bishop Auckland market square to support the campaign to bring state of the art MRI scanners to Darlington Memorial and Bishop Auckland Hospitals.

And Mr Salmon, along with his wife Mandy, were stunned when they received the call telling them they would won first prize – a brand new Vauxhall Viva.

The Shildon couple often buy raffle tickets supporting local charities but describe this as by far their biggest win.

He said: “I was shocked but over the moon when I heard we had won the car and it’s particularly great that the raffle was in aid of such an important local cause. Although I’m fortunate never to have needed an MRI scan myself, I appreciate the huge benefits this equipment will bring.”

And the delighted couple picked up their new car from Sherwoods of Darlington.

The appeal has attracted generous donations from individuals and organisations alike, ranging from a few pounds to several thousand pounds.

Dr Elizabeth Loney, clinical director for Radiology at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, said scanners are becoming an essential tool for diagnosing patients.

She said: “Scans can also give doctors information that previously required the patient to undergo surgery or another invasive procedure as part of the investigation of their symptoms. Crucially, MRI scanners don’t use radiation, unlike x-rays.

“MRI scans are so useful we’re doing more of them each year. In the last year alone the number of MRI scans has increased by 11 per cent.

“An MRI scanner is one of the most expensive pieces of equipment a hospital will ever purchase and with the NHS facing huge financial challenges we need to seek public help in buying them.

“We’ve already had donations from people happy with the care they or a loved one has received, regardless of whether they had a scan. We still need the local community, including individuals, companies, schools, sports clubs etc, to support us by holding events such as coffee mornings, cake sales and sponsored activities in aid of the Scanner Appeal. Every pound counts. After all, you never know when you or a loved one might need a scan.”