A History of the Isle Of Wight Hospitals by E. F. Laidlaw

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In 1952 the Ministry of Health suggested that each H.M.C. should produce yearly a report in narrative form giving account of its activities and development during the year. It would be improperly presumptuous to say that this should have been done; but a would-be historian may perhaps be allowed a passing regret that it was not.

The new hospital was ceremonially opened on September 23rd 1991 by Princess Alexandra; it had been handed over on August 3rd 1990 and it had been occupied in 1990. Newcroft Hospital was occupied in November 1990 and was opened also by Princess Alexandra at a second visit, in December 1991.

With the closure of the Royal County Hospital, many names associated with the hospital have been lost. Cottle, Harington, Milligan, Hathway, Calthorpe, Baring all have vanished. Now it seems that the name of Hassall has followed them into official oblivion. It is perhaps proper to recall the name of A.T.S. Dodd; he was a surgeon who worked about 1840 at the Sussex County Hospital in Chichester; falling ill, he came to Ryde in the hopes of recovery.

It was there that he realised the need for a hospital, and with the Rev. Philips, Rector of Newchurch he pioneered its creation, assembling and serving as secretary of the committee which founded it: sadly he died before it was opened.

Since the opening of the new hospitals there has been one other official opening, that of the new Diabetic Centre in what was formerly Seaview Villa very much refurbished and scarcely recognisable. This was carried out by Professor Harry Keen, Chairman of the British Diabetic Association in June 1992.

Of the eleven hospitals which the I.o.W. H.M.C. took over in 1948, plus the one, the Royal National Hospital at Ventnor, which it acquired later, only St. Mary's and the Frank James Hospital remain (now closed). Fairlee Hospital - now the Mountbatten Hospice, - is not part of the I.o.W. Trust; there is a new Out-patient department at Ryde adjacent to the hospital and occupying the two houses which had become part of the hospital. The Arthur Webster Institute in Shanklin provides clinics and continues in action. The Royal County Hospital, Whitecroft, the Royal National Hospital, the Ventnor and Undercliff Isolation Hospital, Longford, Ashey, Scio House, and Shanklin Cottage Hospitals, all are gone. Gone too are the military and naval hospitals; Parkhurst Prison Hospital remains and incidentally, in providing an electro-encephalograph service to some degree reciprocates any help which it has received in the past from St. Mary's. The new St. Mary's and Newcroft Hospitals have not however displaced the older St. Mary's; indeed it seems that with the possible exception of the garrets in the oldest buildings of the House of Industry, every corner of St. Mary's is still in use, even the old abandoned pharmacy provides offices; and moreover some new buildings have been added, the Breast Screening unit, and the Renal Dialysis Unit; it is the case however that the Porter's Lodge, the offices connected to it and the former Out-patient, X-ray and records department have been replaced by a car park.

Certain themes seem to run through the story of the hospitals, recurring again and again before and after the National Health Service; no doubt common to all hospitals and all areas; a perpetual shortage of money, or at least an endless demand for more money; staff and managers alike continuously aware of how much more they could do given the means; knowledge and technology always racing ahead of practicalities; long hours spent considering how economies can be achieved or how more money can be extracted from any possible source.

Second only to that perhaps has been the continuing, and never altogether, successful endeavour adequately to accommodate and care for those who in their last few months or years need nursing care, together with the smaller number of unfortunate younger people who must live their days in need of professional help; from the Workhouse to the sick wards, to the Infirmary, and back to the sick wards, - to the medical wards, to the Geriatric wards, to the Part Three Homes and the uneasy partnership with the Social Services, no solution has been entirely sufficient. Surely the concept that the Welfare State would pay for itself through improved health and efficiency was the greatest ever, the supreme, the sublime, miscalculation. Now the attempt to look after the dependants 'in the community', in small and, hopefully, homely homes, is the latest solution; and time will show, statistics apart, whether it is an improvement.

One cannot but have the feeling that the problem ever more comes out by the same door as in it went.

This is a murky picture on which to conclude. A very different theme and a far happier one is the continuing relation between the hospital and the community. Hospitals have always, - or almost always - had excellent rapport and relations with the community in which they find themselves, be they large towns (which hardly exist on the Island), small towns, or big villages; the concept of the hospital service has always appealed to the local population which chiefly staffs them. The Christmas shows (and some notable ones have been provided at Ryde, at Whitecroft and at the Royal National Hospital among others), open days, fairs and bazaars have all contributed; the local beneficent organisations, the Red Cross, St. John Ambulance, Toc H, the churches and chapels, Womens' Institutes, Guilds, Buccaneers, Lions, Rotarians and Inner Wheel, Guides and Scouts, and others have all over the years played their part and often a most valuable one, - now supplemented especially by the Friends of the Hospital and more formally by the Community Health Council.

A state service, with its now massive expenditure and numerous personnel is inevitably more formal and remote than before and the more complicated and technically elaborate service requires that complaints and mistakes must be officially recognised, discussed and reported and tribute is due to Mr. Lewis and his assistants for their work in dealing with such matters; but I believe that despite all the formality and the extensive super-structure needed for managing the hospital, those going into St. Mary's or Frank James or elsewhere for treatment generally still feel that they are in the hands of friends and that their hospital is ready and glad to receive and help them. If this be true and fair comment, then all may be well. Antonia Fraser in Cromwell, Our Chief of Men records that Catherine Viscountess Ranelagh, sister of Robert Boyle, the great physicist, and friend of Milton, wrote 'Me-thinks every contrivance, tending to the care of the sick, or the welfare of mankind under any part of that curse he groans under, may be an exercise of love. If this be the belief which inspires all those who work in any and every part of the service, it must surely succeed. But is it?