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Changing Times | Town’s hospital was result of residents’ work

IT SEEMS that every day we read about the National Health Service and hospitals with their lack of money. We hear of special units and local hospice services having to raise money to continue with their excellent service. But is this really so new? I think not, especially when you read some of the early reports on the development of hospital services and their continuation, especially here in Bognor Regis – and I suspect we were no different to any other authority in the country.


The evolution of a hospital service in any town is quite interesting. Before 1918, Bognor town residents had to travel to Chichester for any type of hospital service, and this would have been at a time when road transport was very limited and of course not many people then had the luxury of a car. Therefore, any necessity for treatment would have involved a long, difficult journey.


The people of Bognor worked together in an endeavour to establish a hospital in the town. Even the new Picturedrome Cinema in 1919 donated the proceeds from its debut showing to the Bognor War Memorial Hospital Fund. On July 16, 1919, a house on Chichester Road known as Springfield House, was opened as a voluntary hospital to service the area. The house had originally belonged to Teresa Mercer, an authoress, who moved there in 1839. It was to be quite a small hospital, with only eight beds, and in its first year, the hospital had 76 patients with a further 40 people being treated as outpatients. It did not take the residents long to appreciate the hospital service and, by 1925, the hospital had increased its number of patients to 190 with 244 outpatients.


It became apparent that, although we now had a hospital in the town, it quite quickly became totally inadequate as the population increasingly used the services provided. The hospital at this time was able to perform operations and also had a massage department and a radiography unit. As with many things in life, if you don’t have one, you don’t miss it. However, once the hospital had arrived so the use was to increase annually. The population of the town increased from 13,510 in 1932 to 18,440 in 1939. However, during this same period the hospital had not grown to take into account the increased usage.


Other things were also changing. There was now a provision of medical care in hospital in addition to the surgical service and the medical profession was now able to provide a much wider service.


However, this meant more beds, nursing and other staff, and also expensive equipment.


While the hospital had moved away from its early concept of a cottage hospital, it had remained a voluntary general hospital. One of its annual reports commented that the committee who were running the hospital in 1929 had serious concerns an additional building containing a further 25 beds could be made to pay its way! However, the committee took a serious look at its expenses, which had risen from the annual £1,531.5s.8d to £3,017.10s.9d, due to the increased use by the general public. There was, though, one element that was causing particular concern – while Bognor did not even have sufficient facilities available for its residents, the problem was further exacerbated by the annual influx of holidaymakers to the resort to create an extra strain on the already stretched services.


On February 18, 1929, King George V travelled by train from Buckingham Palace to stay at Craigweil House in what is now Aldwick. He was to spend three months here recuperating from a serious illness. During his stay, not only local residents but the world media focused for a time on this small seaside resort on the south coast of England watching and waiting for the recovery of the King, so that he was able to return to London and once again carry out his duties. Following the King’s stay, both visitors and new residents were attracted to the area for the benefit of their health, which again stretched even further the hospital provision.


In 1931, Lord Leconfield JP (Lord Lieutenant of Sussex), using a silver trowel, laid the foundation stone of the new Bognor Regis Hospital building. Mr W Seymour, a local builder, was present as chairman of the building committee. Also in attendance were hospital doctors and other staff to watch the event. The Bognor War Memorial Hospital was to formally open on September 24, 1932, containing 29 beds, an X-ray department, outpatients, and administration, pictured above.


The new hospital was to have on display in the entrance hall a record of the names of the 324 men from the town who had given their lives in the First World War. The hospital was to be dedicated to the memory of those men who died in the conflict and to commemorate King George V’s restoration to good health. This was to be the concept of the hospital service as a memorial hospital. Over the years, wards and units have been named after notables of the town who have made their contributions.


By 1933, the hospital was treating 259 patients, with a further 235 outpatients. A total of 189 operations were carried out and one report advised the cost per head for inpatients was £8.8s.4d, which averaged 9s.4d. a day. The hospital carried out 58 X-rays in that year.


In 1952, The Observer again reported that the hospital was ‘undoubtedly inadequate in comparison with the population of the town,” and recounted the fact that the efforts of the townspeople of Bognor Regis had been very much responsible for the hospital being handed over as a “going concern to the national health authorities in 1948″. Another extension was added in 1959, costing £10,000, and this at a time when holidaymakers to the town were again regularly expanding the local population of 27,000.
So as we pass the hospital or even visit, we should not forget that the original aim was to provide a local hospital service, with support from the locality. Today, the hospital is a much-used facility and its services are very much in keeping with provision for a local community in the 21st century.

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