Hospitals in the Wrong Places

Dr Charles W Brook “THE STAR,” APRIL 30th, 1936

Many of our Central London hospitals are housed in buildings which are antiquated and unsuited to modern requirements. They occupy sites which are too confined for proper expansion and are in positions which from the point of view of traffic noise and light and air leave much to be desired.

An inspection of a map of London illustrating the distribution of hospitals within the County Boundary shows that while there are a super­abundance of these institutions in Central London, yet there are some disturbing blanks in the outer suburbs, particularly in South London.

I remember that five years ago, at the request of one hospital, I had to approach the L.C.C. Tramways Department with a complaint that night repairs to tram lines outside the hospital were so noisy that all the patients were kept awake.

These Central London sites, while unsuitable for modern hospitals, have an enormous commercial value and consequently huge capital sums are tied up. These, if released, could provide a great deal of additional money, which could be used for the treatment of the sick and the relief of human suffering.

In the City of Westminster (population 129,535) there are three large General Hospitals—the Westminster, St. George’s, and the Charing Cross. Each of these hospitals has a medical school attached, and together they contained 900 beds. In addition, there are in Westminster a very large number of special hospitals, including such well-known institutions as: The Infants’ Hospital, Vincent Square; the Golden Square Hospital for Ear, Nose and Throat; the Royal Dental Hospital; the Royal Westminster Ophthalmic Hospital; the Soho Square Hospital for Women; St. John’s Hospital for Skin Diseases; St. Peter’s Hospital for Stone, and the Gordon Hospital for Rectal Diseases, and many others.

In Wandsworth (population 353,101), there are two small general hospitals—the Weir, at Balham, with 30 beds, and the Putney Hospital, with 51 beds, and there is a Hospital for Women at Clapham with 140. beds. In Lewisham, with a population of 219,942, there is but one voluntary hospital, with 102 beds. It must also be remembered that while the working-class population of Westminster is shrinking, the populations requiring public hospital services in Wandsworth and Lewisham are rapidly increasing.

There is no doubt that the voluntary system is lamentably jailing to meet the needs of the growing -populations of outer London, and as a result, Wandsworth, Lewisham and other Boroughs are now almost entirely dependent on the. L.C.C. hospital services.

Even the Municipal Reform Party at County Hall have appreciated this, for they have recently been pressing for the immediate building of two new L.C.C. general hospitals.

Despite these facts, the three great voluntary general hospitals in Westminster have each independently launched, or are launching, three separate appeals to the public in order to raise funds to build or rebuild these hospitals on sites which are fabulously valuable. Pride and tradition no doubt prompt the governing bodies of the Westminster, St. George’s and the Charing Cross Hospitals to retain their separate identity, but, quite frankly, I do not think that the growing generations in Roehampton. Tooting or Downham care much about a name, a tradition, or a history. What they want is first-class service in first-class surroundings easily accessible to their homes.

Other cities have shown London the way. If you go to New York you will find near Riverside Drive a magnificent skyscraper pile. This is the great medical centre of New York. In it are housed a number of old Hospital Foundations, including the Presbyterian Hospital, a nursing home for millionaires, a medical school and a hotel for the relatives of patients. This centre arose as a result of the co-ordinated efforts of a number of hospitals which were inadequately and unsuitably housed in the congested quarter of the city, but which were unable to expand owing’ to restricted sites.

In Birmingham it was apparent that there was an urgent need for the expansion of the University Medical School and for the development of a number of hospitals situated in the centre of the city. Instead of rebuilding in congested and unsuitable sites, there was a co-ordination of activities and as a result a new hospital centre has been established near Bournville, where there has in recent years been a rapid growth in the population.

What has been achieved, in New York and Birmingham should be done in London, and now is the time for initiating such an undertaking.

The building of the new Westminster Hospital on the Millbank site may now be too advanced to secure the co-operation of that hospital in the scheme, but the governing bodies of St. George’s and the Charing Cross Hospitals, together with those of many of the small special hospitals in Central London, should pool their resources, and, with the active co-operation of the Government, the University of London, and the London County Council, undertake the creation of a great medical centre, the capacity of which would be unequalled throughout the world.

Co-operation between the Government, London University and the L.C.C. has created the great post-graduate teaching hospital at Hammersmith, but now there is an opportunity of embarking on an even greater scheme which would not only do much to meet the urgent hospital needs of South London, but which would provide a new medical school open to both men and women students.

And the site for this centre? There is a magnificent one. In Upper Tooting, close to Wandsworth Common, there is the Springfield Mental Hospital. Although the hospital contains 1,800 beds, it is almost lost in grounds which occupy an area half the size of Clapham Common, and approximately equal to the combined area of St. James’s and the Green Parks. It would be an easy matter for the Middlesex County Council to hand over this magnificent site for the creation of a South London hospital centre, and in return, for the County Council to be provided at no cost to the Middlesex ratepayers with a new mental hospital in Middlesex or Hertfordshire. This would also provide a modern psychiatric centre, which could be utilised for teaching and research. So vast are the Springfield grounds that the building of the medical centre could proceed while the mental patients are being transferred to their new hospital. It would not be necessary for the voluntary hospitals absorbed into the centre to lose their identity, if it was desired that they should be retained.

In the New York Medical Centre, the old Foundations still retain their identity, so in this London Centre the skin department could be called St. John’s, and the genito-urinary department St. Peter’s, etc., if these hospitals were absorbed into the centre.

Never, in my opinion, has London been given such an opportunity of leading the world in the matter of hospital provision.