The History of Frenchay Hospital

1990 - 1994

Although the next phase of N.H.S. reforms loomed large in most conversations whenever the N.H.S. was discussed, the precise nature of how they were to affect Frenchay was not clear. In the late 1980s the Government, along with virtually all developed nations, became intent on curtailing the ever-increasing cost of medicine. The answer in the U.K. was deemed to be 'competition', not from the private sector, but from the idea of 'the Internal Market'. Work previously done on a hospital-wide basis started to be costed at a departmental level; for instance, Medical Physics began to send invoices for repair work done. At first this was only a paper exercise in preparation for the real thing. The Department of Pathology, along with Radiology, had been among the first to be given a theoretical and then an actual budget. The initial bases on which the budgets were founded were frequently spurious, since there really was no information on which to base them. Nevertheless, the budgets came and the words 'purchaser' and 'provider' became common place. Hand in glove with this exercise was the concept of whole hospitals running their own budgets (and being held responsible for them in a way that had not happened before). N.H.S. Trust Hospitals were born, with an initial group being granted this 'honour' in 1991. Frenchay applied for Trust status in April 1991. This application was preceded by consultation with various groups of the staff, most of which were apprehensive and preferred to stay as they were and had been. In spite of this, it was decided that an application should be made and Trust status was granted on 16th October 1991, to be effective in April 1992, the intervening months to be used to set up a Shadow Trust.

In the meantime the rebuilding of the hospital was continuing. The opening of Phase 1 with its 258 beds was held up for some months by problems with nurse staffing levels on the wards. Eventually the Phase was opened on 13th October 1990. Within the building was a new Burns Unit, later to be called 'The Michigan Unit' in memory of the Medical and Nursing staff of the 298th U.S. General Hospital who came from the University of Michigan and ran the hospital for many months during World War II. As a memento of the opening, the hospital produced a limited edition mug which could be bought for 1. I have one and cherish it greatly. The official opening of the wards was carried out on 25th January 1991 by the Duchess of Gloucester. Shortly thereafter, in February, the new Department of Orthopaedics was opened on the site of the old CSSD, in turn on the site of the U.S. Sterilising Department. The CSSD itself had been rehoused earlier in a new building on the site of the water tank in which Sam Caseley's god-daughters were swimming when the first Americans arrived, just at the back of the North Lodge where he, and later Vera Wilson, lived and which itself had been knocked down to make way for the resited Transport Department.

In early 1991 a number of strange new direction signs appeared around the hospital. They were white with red lettering and were erected for a very special reason. A few weeks earlier Iraq had invaded Kuwait. The United Nations, mainly in the shape of the U.S., but with prominent British help, attacked Iraq itself. The hospital was one of several in the country put on a war footing with a special role in the treatment of burns cases. In the event we had only one patient from the Gulf War - a British soldier who turned out to have been fatally burnt in an accidental petrol fire. At the time we were not to know exactly how many casualties were to come and it was even possible that there would be American wounded again in Frenchay.

Although we had no American wounded, the Americans nevertheless did return a year later. This was because back in the late 1980s it had struck two of us, Dr Tony Bennett, Consultant Anaesthetist, and myself at about the same time, that 1992 was the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of the first U.S. troops. This date clearly needed some sort of celebration. Over the years I had managed to gain contact with a number of U.S. veterans, mostly staff but with the occasional patient traced. Using these as the basis, an ever-increasing address list was drawn up. It was obvious that there was a response from the States and so we set up a 'Fiftieth Anniversary' working party. This consisted of Tony Bennett, Brandon Lush, retired Consultant in the Care of the Elderly and a Medical Officer himself in World War II, Diane Redsull, General Manager and Barbara Burgess, Manager of the Postgraduate Centre. Over the months and years we gained sponsorship and worked up a programme of events to cover a weekend.

Indications came from the States that the price of air fares dropped at the beginning of September each year in consequence the first weekend in September was selected by the working party to be the date of the actual reunion. Some months before the date arrived, the photocopied pages of 'Medicine under Canvas', mentioned earlier, came to me from the States and, much to my amazement and pleasure, it became clear that our date of September 4th coincided exactly with that of the arrival of the 77th Evacuation Hospital fifty years earlier! In spite of this happy coincidence, the plans did not go completely problem free. Initially the whole of the U.S. arrangement was being carried out by an organisation called the 'Military Locator Service'. They produced a ten-day plan for a tour of Britain built around the reunion in Bristol. A few months before the actual weekend itself the Locator Service pulled out of the idea. They said that they were one traveller short of the number needed and it was uneconomic to proceed. To the members of the working party this was a disaster; however, salvation was at hand in the shape of one Jim Donohue, ex-sergeant in the Reception and Evacuation area with the 298th, and Lott Bloomfield's friend mentioned earlier, now residing in Pasadena, California. He had organised a number of reunions of the 298th in the States and he took over the transatlantic side of things. Eventually about forty five people came, about forty actual veterans and their families plus current representatives of the University of Michigan - the weekend was saved!

With some of the documentation and photographs that I had received over the previous few years was a copy of the little brochure produced by the 117th U.S. General Hospital for Thanksgiving 1944, and donated by Hilda Fry (the brochure itself is now in the Monica Britton Hall). Inside was the menu for the Thanksgiving Day meal; we decided to copy it exactly. As the weekend approached there was a great deal of coverage by HTV; many people contacted me with memories and some with actual offers of help. One man wanted to line the Lime Tree Drive with World War II tanks, trucks and jeeps - we had to refuse. Other help was of a more practical type, particularly that of the Parkway Big Band who offered their services free of charge (we didn't have any surplus money to pay them in any case). This offer was gratefully accepted and, on the Saturday evening, we had a grand drinks reception to which all the U.S. visitors were invited plus many local people with past wartime connections. This was followed by the 'Thanksgiving Day' menu - all accompanied to Glenn Miller style music by the Parkway Band. The Americans were overwhelmed! The full weekend itinerary was as follows:


Friday 4th
8.15pm Evening Group to be met at their Hotel (Swallow Royal) and, if appropriate, to have talk on the history of the hospital.

Saturday 5th
9.45am Bus to pick up Group from Hotel for visit to the Merchant Venturers' Hall: tour and talk.

11.45am Leave Merchant Venturers' by bus for Frenchay Hospital.

12.15pm Lunch at the hospital.

1.30pm - 3.30pm Conducted walks around the site. During this time there will be a special ceremony at the Michigan Burns Unit; representatives of the University of Michigan, past and present, plus Frenchay Plastic surgeons and others will participate.

Dedication of the Michigan Burns Unit. Ron Hiles (left), senior Plastic Surgeon, presents a Bristol blue glass decanter to George Zuidema, Vice Provost, Medical Affairs, University of Michigan. Giles Bole, Dean of the Medical School, University of Michigan (centre) and Clifford Kiehn, Emeritus professor of Plastc Surgery, University of Michigan (right) look on.

3.30pm Tea.

4.00pm Return to hotel for those so wishing; for the others there will be an opportunity to watch a film made by Dr Conger during his time as a urologist 1942 - 1944. The film includes many scenes of the hospital at work and play as well a brief glimpses of the bombed City Centre. Possibly visit new part of hospital.

6.30pm Drinks reception, Frenchay Hospital with the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Bristol, as well as many local people who were associated with the hospital whilst American Forces were present 1942 - 1945.

7.30pm Dinner in the Postgraduate Centre.

10.30pm Return to Hotel.

Sunday 6th
10.15am Bus to pick up from Hotel for a visit to Berkeley Castle (about 30 miles north of Bristol) for tour and talk, followed by a visit to the nearby Jenner Museum (which commemorates Jenner's 'discovery' of Smallpox vaccination). Lunch at the Museum.

2.00pm Guided bus tour of Bristol.

4.30pm approx. Return to Hotel, and Au Revoir.

The menu was as follows:

Chilled Tomato Juice Cocktail
Soup de jour

Hearts of Celery
Roasted Vermont Turkey
Chestnut dressing
Tidbit Gravy
Cranberry Crown Sauce
Duchess Potatoes, Glazed
Buttered Green Giant Peas
Chef's Salad


Apple Pie with Cheese

Demi Tasse
Fresh Fruit Assorted Candy

Naturally we were not quite able to find things like 'Vermont Turkey' but, at the end of the meal, one American said to me, 'That was as good as any U.S. Thanksgiving Day dinner I have ever had'. Praise indeed! At the end of the weekend Jim Donohue said to me, 'We came because it was the fiftieth anniversary. We expected a walk around the hospital and not much more. What did we get? The weekend of a lifetime!'

Ex-Sgt Jimmy Donohue presenting a plaque to the author after the reunion dinner
[Jimmy Donohue died in Pasadena, California on 21st February 2002]

Prior to this, in May 1992, the Sanatorium school, which had become the Burns theatre for a while and then a laboratory, took on the role of the Laser Centre and was the first of its kind in Britain. Other new uses for old buildings were taking place, almost continually. Many of the back ramp wards were empty, with their patients now housed in the new hospital; ward 20 became Medical Physics; wards 18 and 19 became the Lime Tree Unit for Neurological Rehabilitation and was so dedicated by the Duchess of Beaufort in December 1992. Also late in 1992 work started on the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit. This was financed to the tune of 200,000 per year for five years by the Department of Health and was one of twelve projects funded nationally out of 83 applications. In both this scheme and that of Headway House, Brian Cummins F.R.C.S., Consultant Neurosurgeon, played a vital role.

In March 1993 work started on further extension of the new hospital in the shape of Trauma and Orthopaedic wards, Day surgery and Endoscopy facilities. Opening was due to take place on 31st August 1994, but various problems meant that it had to be delayed by a few weeks.

And so, at the time of writing, in late 1994, we have come right up to date. In spite of all the encouraging progress and the millions of pounds spent, there is a large cloud on the horizon - rumours abound that Frenchay is going to be closed down as part of yet another structural change in the N.H.S. Personally, I can't imagine how this could even be considered as a practicality. By the time you read this my future will have become your present and past, and you will possibly know what came about.

Frenchay Hospital 1994. Photo by Dawn White, Frenchay Medical Illustration Dept.

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