The History of Frenchay Hospital


My personal introduction to the new decade was a sudden awareness of things called 'word processors'. Histopathologists like me, for those who may not be aware, spend a great deal of their time looking down a microscope at preparations of pieces of tissue removed by clinicians, mainly surgeons. They record their opinions in written or typed reports. Several thousand of these reports were, and are, generated each year in the lab at Frenchay; their production is so much easier with the now common, but then very rare, word processor. I asked for one. In those days such largish items of capital equipment had to be purchased with Regional funds and had to be backed by local (district) support. The waiting list for Regional funding was about five years and my heart sank. However, the submission went up to District at the end of May 1980. To my great delight the District Treasurer, Doug Woods, rang me and said: 'I allocated 25,000 for possible computer purchase in this financial year. You are the only person to ask for one - you can have it!' And so it came to pass that the Department of Histopathology at Frenchay became one of the first in the world with this type of technology. If only the rest of the decade had been so easy!

Firstly, there was the re-reorganisation already touched upon. In April 1982 Avon AHA was disbanded and the individual Health Districts for whom they had been responsible became a little more autonomous. The administrative structure became centred around 'Units' under, in the old Frenchay District, Frenchay Health Authority. We had a General Unit consisting of Frenchay, Manor Park, Burden and Cossham Hospitals. There was also a Community Unit consisting of Chipping Sodbury Hospital and the Community Health Services. Glenside Hospital formed the Mental Health Unit and the Mental Handicap Unit consisted of Stoke Park, Purdown and Hanham Hall Hospitals as well as Clevedon Holiday home. By 1987/88 the cost per in-patient day at Frenchay Hospital had risen to 120.91; the overall cost per in-patient stay was 1037.74. Of course these figures hid widespread differences in cost between the individual specialties and changed in 1988/89 to 136.25 and 934.97 respectively. The Medical Staff committee was a unitary one and we met for our regular monthly meetings on a rotational venue basis. The food supplied for these working lunches when we met at Manor Park and Stoke Park Hospitals always seemed so much better than Frenchay.

The second major change in this decade was the realisation that, at last, there was going to be a proper rebuilding programme at Frenchay. In 1981 we celebrated the Golden Jubilee of the opening of the 1931 wards (more of this later). A special brochure was produced, at the end of which was a photograph of the model of the proposed redevelopment. Plans still had to be finalised, but it was hoped that work on Phase 1 would start in 1985 at a cost of 8.5 million. A great deal of preparatory work had been done before 1981. I remember that both the Medical and Nursing staffs had been consulted about the overall general shape of the new buildings; both groups were unanimous in their desire to maintain the low-built character of the wards. We were told that we could not have a replacement in a single storey style since this would mean that when patients were transferred from old to new premises this would not release sufficient land necessary to proceed with the subsequent phases; we would have to accept a multi-storey building and, since it was uneconomic to put in lifts just to serve two storeys, then a three storey structure was inevitable. When the plans showed only two storeys, we were all delighted and didn't question the change in heart.

The construction of the new hospital involved a number of large preliminary works. It was necessary to build a new, bigger, boiler house and it was also vital to upgrade the drainage facilities. These changes were virtually complete by the spring of 1986. The shell of Phase 1 proper was readily visible by late 1987. In order to clear the building site the road near to the original 1931 wards 29 and 30 was diverted to run close to the front of the wards themselves. Previously, as some of the photographs show, there had been a wide area of grass in front of these wards; this was the only significant amount of open space lost in rebuilding programme, all the remaining development taking place on land cleared of older buildings. The ceremony marking the cutting of the first sod of Phase 1 proper took place on the morning of October 17th 1986. Geoff Mortimer, the Chairman of the Health Authority, and the Lord Mayor of Bristol performed the actual cutting. Also prominent at the ceremony was John Zorab, Consultant Anaesthetist and Medical Representative on the Planning Team. It was through his efforts that the very first phase of the redevelopment had been carried out a few years earlier. He reported to the Medical Staff that the Regional Health Authority had agreed to allocate 20,000 to plant a mass of saplings of different types to act as a nursery for the eventual landscaping of the estate. These trees were planted around the eastern and northern perimeter of the grounds. Most were never used for their intended purpose; as a result, in 1994 we have a splendid forest in the area, part of which is now a wildlife park. This park was first designated in the winter of 1983-84 as a result of the efforts of a few enthusiasts. Most eventually left the hospital as their careers evolved and the park almost disappeared. However, in 1994, it was redesignated with special emphasis on access for the disabled.
[In Feb 1996 Fred Dane told me the story behind the funding of the tree planting. At that time Fred was Director of Works at the hospital and was, naturally, part of the planning team. He heard that grants were available for tree planting from the Forestry Commission and Local Authorities. He asked for, and got, a total of about 20,000 for the proposed landscaping of the new hospital. As a result there was no cost on the NHS! ]

As mentioned earlier, in 1981 the hospital celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the 1931 wards. The American Ambassador visited the hospital and a special open weekend for the public took place at the end of September. Vera Wilson produced her book at the time and the Health Authority a brochure and an exhibition in the Postgraduate Centre. A special celebratory lunch was also arranged, to take place in the Administrative H.Q. - the original Georgian mansion. Because of the strong connections with the U.S. military during the War it was decided to invite an American representative to the lunch. Since the nearest U.S. base was only 30 or so miles away at RAF Fairford, the current serving Medical Officer there was asked to come. He turned out to be a very distinguished looking and surprisingly old looking man - certainly to still be a serving officer. I was lucky enough to spend some time with him and he told me that during the war he had been a Corpsman (nursing orderly) in the U.S. army. After the War he had studied medicine and gone into practice in California. At the age of 55, a year or two before we met at the lunch, he and his wife felt that they would like to see some more of the world. He had always toyed with the idea of re-enlisting in the military and so he offered himself to the USAF. In spite of his age they took him with alacrity (they were short of military doctors) but told him, to his and his wife's disappointment, that he would never receive an overseas posting. However, much to their delight he was shortly posted to Holland and then, to his immense pleasure, to Britain and specifically to the U.S. base at Fairford in Gloucestershire. From there he was invited to the aforementioned lunch. After lunch I walked with him around the hospital. Much to my bafflement he started to tell me about the different buildings that we passed. It turned out that his time as a nursing orderly in the war had been partly spent at Frenchay. Because of his unique career and his entry at such a late stage into the USAF, he must have been the only medical officer in all the U.S. services with such wartime connections. To this day I am still amazed by the coincidence. I tried to trace him later but I can't remember his name and the records at Fairford are not permanent - they never keep a note of the personnel who have worked on a base, only those who are currently working. Pity.

Mention has been made of the background to the establishment of a photographic department at the hospital in 1949. At that stage it was housed at one end of the building it shared with the dental department, demolished with the construction associated with Phase 1. In the late 1960s, it came to be resited at the far end of what, in 1994, was the Department of Medicine. These premises were too small, not only for the increased workload, but also the changed nature of the work. As a result, a new department of Medical Illustration was opened in 1986 on a small area of grass immediately adjacent to the Plastic surgery theatres (the treatment block of the 1931 wards). The ceremony was performed by Dennis Bodenham, F.R.C.S, the second Consultant Plastic Surgeon to be appointed, shortly after 'Fitz' FitzGibbon.

A significant amount of private money was donated to the hospital in the middle part of the decade. In 1983 Jack Britton, a local millionaire, donated more than 100,000 for the establishment of a Hall of Medical History in memory of his wife, Monica. He and his wife had been treated by Colin Davidson, F.R.C.S., one of the General surgeons. Initially Jack Britton wanted the Hall to be built at Cossham Hospital because of his boyhood connections with it. However Colin persuaded him that, since it was an educational building, it would be better placed at Frenchay. By the autumn of 1984 the shell of the striking octagonal building next to the Postgraduate Centre had taken root.

Another major donation came in the mid 1980s in the shape of 1,000,000 from John James, another local millionaire. The money was specifically for the purchase of a new type of scanner, based on Magnetic Resonance Imaging - M.R.I. for short. The money did not cover the cost of housing or running the machine; in consequence a major fund raising appeal had to be launched. Gordon Thomson, Consultant Neuroradiologist, was prominent in obtaining both the initial donation and the subsequent fund raising. A special building was constructed at the back of the swimming pool and, in June 1987, the new scanner was installed. It was only the ninth in the U.K. at the time. Such was the success of the fund raising that a second scanner could be afforded; it arrived on site in January 1992 and was working by April. A third M.R.I. scanner, this time funded by the Department of Health and housed in a building near to Neuro X-ray was due to be installed in 1994/95. This scanner was the first of its type to installed in a hospital anywhere in Europe, the only other one being at the Philip's factory. On installation, the first of the M.R.I. scanners was then decommissioned.
[I have been reminded that Terry Beddoes, a local GP, was also a major influence in the establishment of the scanner.]

Not only was Frenchay prominent in the pioneering use of M.R.I. technology but, as Vera Wilson's account of the 1970s relates and due to the enthusiasm of Huw Griffith F.R.C.S., Consultant Neurosurgeon, one of the very first CAT scanners had come to the hospital in 1973. This 'Emmy' (EMI) scanner was eventually replaced, but its installation was nearly a world first. The replacement was initially a trial with one built by a newly founded firm called 'Meditech'. A special room to house it was built off the main corridor near to Neuro X-ray. Unfortunately, the machine failed to come up to specification and, in turn, was replaced by a different make. CAT scanning has grown to be a major tool in the diagnosis of many conditions, particularly of those seen by neurosurgeons. A second such scanner was installed in 1991.

The reputation of Frenchay as a centre of research excellence was underlined when the Imperial Cancer Research Fund decided to establish a laboratory in 1989. The facilities moved out of the Institute of Child Health at Great Ormond Street Hospital, London in October and were transferred to the Frenchay site, in a new building just behind the Doctors' Mess, on the site of a tennis court.

The hospital staff had been kept up to date with events with the aid of a hospital newspaper. Since March 1986 'Free Speech' conveyed the news. The paper lasted into the 1990s when, in April 1992, it was replaced by 'Frenchay Wide'.

The changes becoming current in treatment procedures were applied to Frenchay when a new Day Case Centre opened in March 1988. Some time prior to this, in 1984, Frenchay had gained its first professorial chair in medicine when Gordon Wilcock was lured from Oxford to take up the post of Professor in the Care of the Elderly. Subsequently, two further professors came to be based at Frenchay when Richard Langton-Hewer and Hugh Coakham both received personal Chairs.

Two royal visitors came during the decade. In 1988 the Duchess of Kent opened the refurbished Entrance Lodge (where Mr Abbott, the farm bailiff had lived) and renamed it CLIC Cottage on behalf of the Cancer and Leukaemia in Children fund. Also in 1988 the Duchess of Beaufort opened Headway House for the rehabilitation of brain injured patients.

And so, as the decade came to an end, great progress had been made with the redevelopment of the old hospital. However, on the very near horizon, was - yet another N.H.S. reorganisation ...

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