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Thursday, 27 November 2014

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Recalling a community’s pride in flagship hospital

THIS autumn marks 50 years since West Cumberland Hospital was formally opened by the Queen Mother.

By Margaret Crosby

It was an auspicious event in 1964 as it was the first new hospital in England to be built following the inception of the National Health Service.

Now a group of retired nurses, known as Whitehaven Hospital Research Group, are determined the anniversary will not be forgotten.

Leader of the group, Maureen Fisher, said: “We want to remember how proud we were to be working at such a wonderful new hospital, what it meant for the health needs of the local population and just how good it was.

“We need to remind people of that.”

The Research Group’s members initially got together over 10 years ago to collate information and memorabilia about the old Whitehaven Castle Hospital which resulted in an exhibition and eventually became the content of a successful book, Whitehaven Castle – The Hospital Years.

That was followed up several years later by Dovenby Days telling the story of Dovenby Hall Hospital as a mental home.

Back in 1964, there was no problem recruiting consultants for the West Cumberland Hospital which at that time boasted 828 beds (compared with 207 now) and employed 28 consultants. It had in-patient facilities for 13 branches of medicine and six operating theatres.

The Queen Mother herself, arriving at Corkickle Station with her corgis and resplendent in velvet coat of marine blue with toning dress and hat, said it was “a landmark in the history of West Cumberland” that “stands to serve the people”.

“My hope is that what you have built so well will be equally well-loved.” And it was.

The hospital was first talked of in 1938 when it was realised that Whitehaven Castle was never going to be a modern hospital.

It took 10 years to achieve in planning, building and equipping and now, said Mr G T Weir of the hospital management committee “only in exceptional cases where highly specialised regional services are required will a patient need to go outside the district”.

The hospital was built between 1959 and 1964 and had a number of extensions. It is now undergoing a major refurbishment after plans to replace it with a new hospital were discounted.

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