Carry on nursing - for a century

MATRON is a word for me which seems to instantly bring to mind an image of Hattie Jacques in a scene from a Carry On film. This joke image is of course long out of date.

MATRON is a word for me which seems to instantly bring to mind an image of Hattie Jacques in a scene from a Carry On film.

This joke image is of course long out of date.

I was taking photographs recently at the Nuffield Hospital, Ipswich, which is on the edge of town, near Foxhall Stadium.

The hospital is more like a comfortable hotel and the staff relaxed and friendly. There were few uniforms to be seen and matron greeted me smartly dressed like any top executive in a large company.

There was no sign of a starched hat!

My visit reminded of the old hospital, which stood on the same site. The Foxhall Hospital closed in November 1975. It was a very different place to the one there today.

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The sanatorium for people with lung disorders, in particular tuberculosis, was built on a 15 acre site and opened in 1912.

The project was the first major effort in the Ipswich area in the fight against tuberculosis. For many years tuberculosis was one of the most controversial of medical conditions. It would take many years and many mistakes before a breakthrough treatment and the progress of new antibiotics. The main treatment was quiet, rest, wholesome food and plenty of fresh air, regardless of the weather!

Around £16,000 was raised by public subscription and the building was designed around what was then thought to be the best treatment -plenty of fresh air.

The hospital was later expanded, but during the Second World War staffing problems saw the number of beds cut to fewer than 60.

In March 1947, ironically just as the National Health Service started, the problems were so bad the hospital closed and patients were moved to St Helens Hospital, which was close to where the St Elizabeth Hospice is today on Foxhall Road.

In January 1949 the hospital started a new life. The man given the job of getting the building working again was Doug Godfrey.

He was given help from former prisoners of war and Ukrainian refugees, most of which spoke no English. Speaking as the hospital closed in 1975 Mr Godfrey said “We literally had to hack our way through the undergrowth to the door”.

The first patients then were all Ukrainians suffering from TB who were transferred from a hospital at Diss. Soon after the first local patients arrived to find that the Ukrainian staff often served traditional Ukrainian dishes on the menu.

Over the years major changes were made as treatment changed with new knowledge. The draughty open wards with louvered doors were glazed and a surgical unit set up for major operations. When the old hospital closed in 1975 patients were again moved to St Helens Hospital.

In 1980 the building was put to a new use for Vietnamese “Boat People” refugees. In a year over 150 people, many of them children, were housed in the old building.

Although conditions for them were poor they were grateful for sanctuary after their ordeal in open boats as they escaped from their country. Many of the refugees found work and settled in this area. In June 1981 the site was vandalised and around 800 windows smashed. The refugees, who lived on another part of the site, must have felt under attack again.

In 1996 the multi-million pound development of the site was announced with a new private hospital planned for the site.

In May 1997 the new hospital opened with rooms featuring en-suite facilities and an open air patio. The patios were the only reminder of the treatment given on the site to patient in 1912 when fresh cold air was thought to be the best way of making them better.

Were you a patient or member of staff at the old hospital? Write with your memories to Dave Kindred, Kindred Spirits, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich. IP4 1AN.

The hospital opened as the King Edward Memorial Sanatorium in 1912.

It was known as the Ipswich Sanatorium until 1948.

From 1949 the site operated as Foxhall Hospital and as Ipswich Hospital, Foxhall Wing until it closed.