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Southport Reporter® covering the news on Merseyside.

Date:- 02 April 2007

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End of an era for Southport Health Services
Written by Matthew King, Southport and Ormskirk Hospital NHS Trust

THE move of Audiology, ENT and the Eye Unit from the Southport General Infirmary at the end of this month will mean the end of General Hospital services on the Scarisbrick New Road site after a period of some 112 years.

Jonathan Parry, Chief Executive said:- "This is the end of an era that began as far back as 1825 when the Southport Infirmary and Dispensary opened in Lord Street. There were then considerable developments over the next 70 years, including the building of the first Infirmary in Virginia Street in 1870, until the Infirmary eventually opened on the Scarisbrick New Road site in 1895.  In one way we will be sorry to be moving from the Infirmary as it has served both the people of Southport and the health service very well. But the building has become very tired, and expensive to run, so we are delighted to finally be able to move to newly refurbished, modern accommodation at Southport and Ormskirk."

A Brief History of Southport General Infirmary.   The early years...

IN March of 1825 a new charity was instituted for the provision of medical benefits for local handloom weavers as well as for "strangers". That organisation used the Dispensary building completed 2 years earlier in Lord Street. Originally called the North Meols Local Dispensary, it developed into the Southport Infirmary and Dispensary and served until 1870.

Artist's impression of the Infirmary, Virginia Street 1870

On 5 March 1870, the foundation stone of the Southport Infirmary was laid in Virginia Street and it opened on 2 January 1871. The building provided accommodation for 6 male and 6 female patients and also had 2 spacious wards isolated for the reception of fever and infectious diseases. It also had a mortuary, a disinfecting house and its own laundry. In its 1st year it treated 115 inpatients and by 1894 this had risen to 219 inpatients, of which 30 were cases of infectious diseases. By 1876 there were increasing concerns over the inadequacy of the arrangements for infectious cases and it was decided to discontinue the infectious disease wards. Thereafter, the whole attention of the hospital was turned towards the treatment of accident and non-infectious medical cases.

Move to Scarisbrick New Road

Despite subsequent additions to the building, by 1892 it was felt that the Virginia Street Infirmary was no longer able to carry out its proper functions. Its bed compliment was insufficient to meet demands and the building was becoming unsafe. Following an appeal for a new Infirmary, the Scarisbrick family gave a 5 acre site on which the present Infirmary now stands. The foundation stone was laid on 27 October 1892 and it opened on 26 September 1895. The buildings were erected at a cost of £25,000 and there was accommodation for 60 patients in the men's, women's and children's wards.

Women's ward, 1898

The new Infirmary, circa 1900

In 1899, following expansion of the district it served to include Ainsdale, the Infirmary amalgamated with The Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital.

The 3 years leading up to the outbreak of the First World War saw the building of a new ward and the opening of a new Massage Department and x-ray Department. During the War the provision of a further 120 beds for wounded soldiers necessitated the provision of a new anaesthetic room and Pathology Department in 1916. By 1918 a total of 1,173 wounded and invalided British soldiers had been seen at the hospital.

Operating table, 1909

After the First World War

Over the next decade there were further developments including what might seem today as a rather strange Artificial Sunlight Department. One of the major developments on the site occurred in 1928 when Miss Christiana Hartley, JP proposed to present the town with a fully equipped Maternity Hospital. This was opened in May 1932, independent of the Infirmary, although the Board of the Infirmary provided the nursing, food, medicine, laundry and other requirements.

In June 1939 building began on a new Women's Surgical Ward and, with the outbreak of war in September, 117 emergency beds were added to the 150 ordinary beds already in use. 1943 saw the start of the Appointments System for outpatients, and 173 wounded soldiers were admitted during the year. A new Rehabilitative Department was opened the following year.

Children's ward, circa 1946

Verandah of children's ward, circa 1946

The National Health Service

In the Infirmary's silver jubilee year, plans were made for considerable extensions, including accommodation for an additional 178 beds. On 5 July 1948 the Infirmary ceased to be a voluntary hospital and passed into state control in the fledgling National Health Service. It was one of 14 hospitals under Liverpool Regional Hospital Board.

The 1950s and 60s saw further improvement and expansion of the hospital's facilities. These included the provision of emergency lighting, a new Pharmacy, which allowed the increasingly busy Outpatient and Casualty Department to be separated into 2 distinct departments. In 1963 there were improvements and extensions to the theatre suite and a new mortuary refrigeration unit was built. In 1966 an automatic film processing unit was installed in the X-ray Department. In 1964, post-graduate courses for General Practitioners started.

The 1st half of the 1960s saw a 30% increase in surgical work at the Infirmary and an increase of 20% in all services at the hospital. The bed complement for 1966 was 104; by 1978 it had risen to 205.

Operating theatre, 1970

The Infirmary, 1970

The beginning of the end

During the late 1970s it became evident that a new hospital was needed to cope with demands and plans were put in place for the building of the Southport & Formby District General Hospital on Town Lane. That opened in 1988 and the vast majority of services moved from the Infirmary on Scarisbrick Road when it opened. However, some services remained at the Infirmary including the Eye Unit, ENT, Audiology, Chiropody, Speech Therapy, Paton Ward for the elderly and some pathology services.

The Spinal Injuries Unit temporarily moved to the Infirmary from the Promenade Hospital in 1988 before moving to its current home at the General Hospital some two years later. The Christiana Hartley maternity unit remained on the Infirmary site until 1999, and since then the other services provided on the site have slowly moved to new accommodation either in the Southport & Formby District General Hospital or the Ormskirk & District General Hospital.

The move of Audiology, ENT and the Eye Unit means that there will no longer be General Hospital services on the Scarisbrick New Road site, although Mersey Care NHS Trust still has services for elderly mentally ill patients.

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