THROUGH THE ARCHIVES: Old hospital ward would have given patients the “heebie-jeebies”

From the News Letter, May 29, 1951

Saturday, 29th May 2021, 6:00 am
Minister of State Michael Alison lends a helping hand to student nurse Diane McCartney of Belfast as she takes the blood pressure of patient Mrs Elizabeth Allington, during the minister's visit to Belfast City Hospital in April 1980. Picture: News Letter archives

Four big coal fires, the only means of heating Ward 17 of the City Hospital in Belfast, had been replaced by a thermostatic electrically-controlled apparatus, reported the News Letter on this day in 1951.

It was only one of the major improvements that had taken place in a scheme of renovation which was seen by the Minister of Health, Dame Dehra Parker, when she formally opened the ward.

For the sum of £3,000 the old ward had been transformed. It had been in very poor condition - “the decoration, lighting, plumbing, and general facilities all being in the old workhouse tradition” - but now it had been repainted, re-floored, and a modern arrangement of the beds had been introduced, which, while providing more room, actually increased the number of patients to 41.

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A remarkable fact, noted the News Letter, was that most of the work of modernisation had been carried out by the hospital staff, under the supervision of the hospital’s clerk of works, Mr J H Evans.

At the opening ceremony, Dr F P Montgomery, chairman of the Hospitals Authority, presided.

Dame Dehra said that she had been amazed at the transformation. She said that she had not known the ward previously, but that she was “well acquainted with the old type of union buildings, and knew what they looked like”.

There was one thing which could be said in their favour, however, she said, and that was that they were built to last.

That was evident in Ward 17, where the new wash handbasins could not be placed until rocks measuring 3 feet by 2 feet and weighing 2 cwt had been removed.

Mr H I McClure, FRCS, chairman of the South Belfast Management Committee, said that the old ward was “dull, dismal, dingy, dark place”, which must have given the cheeriest patient “heebie-jeebies” within 24 hours.

Mr Andrew Millar, vice chairman of the committee, spoke of the friendliness of the staff of the hospital.