The History of Frenchay Hospital


In 1974 the N.H.S. underwent a major 'reform'. Out went the Hospital Management Committees and in came Area and District 'Health Authorities'. Frenchay Health Authority, or FHA as it was shortened to, came under the umbrella of the new County of Avon's Area control, or Avon AHA for short. All of this fitted in with the reorganisation of local government, locally resulting in the establishment of the County of Avon by incorporating parts of South Gloucestershire and parts of North Somerset into a 'marriage' with the City and County of Bristol. (Bristol had been a County in its own right since 1373 - 601 years of history disappeared in the 1974 changes). Avon AHA set up its headquarters down near the B.R.I. in a newly built office of some pretension called 'Greyfriars'. Many felt the rental money could have been better spent.

The consequence for Frenchay was that some of the functions carried out by the old South Western Regional Hospital Board, replaced by - guess what? - the S.W.R.H.A, needed to be carried out at Frenchay itself. There was a need for increased office facilities and new ones were seriously proposed. There was no more Project Team to delegate to. Common sense soon prevailed however; it became clear that it would be a lot cheaper to upgrade the Sisters House (which needed significant 'first aid' in any case) than it would be to build new offices. In consequence, the house was renovated and put into a decent state of repair. As previously indicated, it was subsequently Listed as being of architectural and historical interest. Without the 1974 reorganisation the house could well have fallen into an irreversible state of disrepair. As it is, at the time of writing, the house seems to have an assured future.

At this time some of the HAs proclaimed their Teaching Status, i.e. they advertised that they taught undergraduate medical students (other types of teaching appeared not to count) by placing the status symbol (T) after their names. Thus Avon AHA was Avon AHA(T). Southmead adopted this ploy but Frenchay, in spite of having regular undergraduate teaching commitments (I and my colleagues in the Lab taught on four days each week in the winter term) Frenchay never wore the badge of Frenchay AHA(T) - we remained a plain old AHA.

Other things, of course, happened during this decade. Vera Wilson again gives a superb overview:

The proximity of the Severn Bridge and Motorway complex brought an increase in accident/emergency cases to Frenchay Hospital, and consequently a mobile resuscitation unit was brought into service in April, 1971, to deal with serious accidents and medical emergencies where they occurred. The 27,000 needed for the specially-designed vehicle was given by the Gloucestershire County Council and a further 700, for equipment, was provided by the South Western Regional Hospital Board.

The mobile resuscitation unit was manned by anaesthetists and trained nurses from Frenchay Hospital. The ambulance men making up the crew were trained in the special units of the hospital. Unfortunately the original vehicle was damaged by fire after several years' service and was replaced by Avon Area Health Authority. The Avon Area ambulance men continue to receive special training at Frenchay.

For several years the General Practitioners and their hospital colleagues had hoped that Government funds would be made available to build a Medical Postgraduate Centre, but the project had been delayed. The doctors, anxious to improve their communication system, decided to try to raise the money required. Among those who contributed were the nursing staff of Frenchay Hospital. When completed the Centre contained a Library, Lecture Theatre, Lecture Room, Dining Hall with serving area, Offices, Toilets and a Central Lounge. It was officially opened by Professor G. A. Smart, B.Sc., M.D., F.R.C.P., Director of the Postgraduate Federation, on 30th November, 1972.

Children suffering from conditions such as Spina Bifida need regular treatment from more than one medical specialist. Attending such clinics can be time-consuming and tiring for children and parents. The Bristol and District Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Association raised 10,000 towards the building of a Spina Bifida Unit in the grounds of Frenchay Hospital, and a further 10,000 to meet the first year's running costs. The Unit provided four consulting rooms, one each for the specialities of Paediatrics, Neurosurgery/Neurology, Urology and Orthopaedics. Two of the rooms were separated by a folding, soundproof, partition, which could be drawn back to provide additional space for various activities such as physiotherapy and play groups. The planners allowed easy access for wheelchairs in addition to adequate storage space and a tea-bar for relatives and friends. When not required for clinical purposes the Unit houses a Pre-School Nursery Class. The Spina Bifida Unit was officially opened by Johnny Morris, Esq., on 22nd April, 1972.

The following year was National 'Plant a Tree' Year. The Hospital Management Committee arranged for additional trees to be planted in the parkland, most of which were acers. The majority of these young trees were well established and survived the long, dry summer that occurred two years later, although some of the older trees perished as a result of the drought.

In 1973 the DHSS offered Frenchay Hospital a 140,000 Brain Scanner, provided it could be housed and maintained. The Brain Scanner was one of the greatest advances in the X-ray investigation of brain diseases. It was invented by Mr Godfrey Housfield, Head of Medical Systems Section of the EMI Central Research Laboratories, and has been in regular use in the Department of Neurosurgery since 1974.

Another development in patient care took place when the DHSS decided to make Frenchay Hospital a centre for treatment of cerebral catastrophe (stroke). The Stroke Unit was planned as an Out-patient Department where each case could be assessed and treated by a team of trained staff. It incorporated a workshop and laboratory and had easy access to the main hospital roadway. It was visited by Sir Keith Joseph, Minister of Health, in 1973 and received its first patients in 1974. An interesting feature of the Unit is the adjacent garden for the disabled. The work of the Unit has recently been extended to include patients with other neurological conditions and the Unit has been renamed 'The Avon Stroke and Neurological Rehabilitation Research Unit'.

Although the rebuilding of Frenchay Hospital has been disappointingly slow compared with other hospitals in the South West, a purpose-built Medical Records Department and a Nurse Education Centre were built in the seventies, replacing the old, overcrowded hutments which had been in use since the forties.

The Geriatric Day Hospital was opened by Sir Dan Mason in May, 1977, to serve the needs of the increasing number of elderly people in the District. The purpose of the Day Hospital is to care for a number of elderly patients on a daily basis, giving them skilled attention and the opportunity to meet socially.

On 1st April, 1974, the National Health Service was reorganised and Hospital Management Committees and Boards of Governors were disbanded. Regional Hospital Boards were renamed Regional Health Authorities; Area Health Authorities were established throughout the country, and hospitals were placed under District Management Teams, which delegated day-to-day management to teams of officers, later called Sector Management Teams.

The new County of Avon was divided into four Health Districts: Southmead, Bristol, Weston and Frenchay. Although the Health District is called Frenchay, the hospital of that name is only one of a group of hospitals in the District.

In practice it has been found that the present organisational structure has resulted nationally in wasteful duplication of services and roles, which has led to frustration at all levels. In recognition of the dissatisfaction felt by National Health Service personnel, a rationalisation and reorganisation will take place in 1982. The South Western Regional Health Authority has submitted its proposals on the management restructuring of the National Health Service and it is awaiting the decision of the Secretary of State.

It is anticipated that the Community nursing service for Northavon and the group of hospitals which includes Frenchay Hospital will be managed by a District Health Authority. The membership of the new District Health Authority will include a chairman chosen by the Secretary of State and approximately sixteen others elected by various organisations. A team of officers will be appointed to advise the District Health Authority on specialist matters such as Hospital Administration, Nursing and Finance.

I particularly remember 'Plant a Tree in 73' year. I was on the Hospital Management Committee at the time; I suggested that it would be appropriate if we managed to increase the stock of young trees on the estate - there were very many splendid old ones but virtually no new planting had taken place for decades. The H.M.C. willingly agreed to this suggestion and donated 100 - a significant sum in those days. I expected to see about five or six semi-mature trees for the price; instead 50 young saplings were purchased and 45 survived the drought. Twenty years on they form a splendid arc running from close to the Trust H.Q. around the Begbrook Park edge of the ground to end up near the Lime Tree Drive entrance.

Thus, during the decade, the H.M.C. became defunct and my membership of it terminated, only for me later to become a member of the Sector Management Team and then its Chairman; however 'Sectors' were becoming unfashionable too. And so, as the decade drew to its end, we were in for yet another N.H.S. reorganisation.

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