Monday, March 17, 2008

The Hospital that was Stolen in the Night!

In the Ilford District of East London there were a number of small “local” hospitals providing what would now be provided by a single “District General Hospital”. One of these was in Dagenham and was sited relatively close to the Thames on land that was rich in gravel which would be excavated once a new Hospital opened thus allowing the small hospitals to close.

This particular hospital had been erected by the Army about the time of World War 1 and consisted of around 8 temporary huts. These had a low brick wall and rounded sheets of corrugated metal to provide walls and roof. The inside skin of the buildings consisted of wooden lathes and plaster fixed to the same low brick walls. This was typical of a fair proportion of the 1948 building stock of the NHS as in the 2nd World War the Americans built something similar but used single story brick built out houses. These hospitals were classed as EMS (Emergency Medical Service) hospitals. Dagenham hospital was one of the last remaining 1st World War EMS hospitals in 1984. It was located at the end of a narrow badly lit lane between houses on a 1950’s housing estate – so few people even knew it existed. An ideal place to house elderly patients who had few people to visit them then!

Despite all of that the interior of the huts were great for the nursing care of elderly patients. The width of a typical ward was around 30% greater than today’s designs and with regular licks of paint and a willingness to pay for the wasted heat that escaped through the uninsulated buildings actually provided comfortable patient accommodation.

As was the nature with NHS capital programmes at the time the new buildings kept getting postponed so that in my time we could no longer put off doing some remedial work at the hospital to make it last about another 3 years. Unfortunately this proved impossible as the structural survey, we felt needed to be carried out to make sure any remedial work could be done safely, was itself deemed dangerous. The report I received stated that normally the integrity of the external cladding would be best inspected from inside by probing through the internal lathe and plaster skin. However Structural engineers soon realised that the internal skin was in fact holding up the rest of these buildings so it was deemed unsafe to disturb them….. oops and a case of fingers being crossed!

A couple of years after I left I spoke to the acting general manager who told me how he had been called at his home over Christmas to be told that the by then deserted hospital had been stolen!Apparently some enterprising entrepreneurs had driven lorries unnoticed down the badly lit lane to the disused hospital and stripped the huts of their metal cladding and any other recyclable material they could find. So sometime between Christmas and New Year the hospital disappeared or was stolen.

The acting General Manager pondered whether he should report the “loss” to the police and decided it was not necessary as the entrepreneurs had actually saved the authority some money. The Authority was in the process of inviting tenders for the clearing of the site so that it could then be sold with mineral rights for gravel extraction without encumbrance. The health authority had in fact been prepared to pay someone to do what these unknown “public spirited” opportunistic East Enders had done. He thought it was a great Christmas present for the health authority

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