New Isolation Hospital – Local Government Board Inquiry March 1915

From the Bexhill Observer 6th March 1915

New Isolation Hospital.
Local Government Board Inquiry.
Pleas For Delay.

The Corporation’s proposal to erect a new isolation hospital at Clinch Green at a cost of £6.500 formed the subject of a Local Government Board Inquiry at the Town Hall on Tuesday morning, Mr. W. W. E. Fletcher, M.B., holding it. As regards the scheme itself, there was no adverse criticism, and the only thing which called forth the slightest opposition was the time at which the scheme should be carried out, it being urged by one or two members of the Council that during the period of the War it was desirable to exercise all the economy possible.

In addition to the Inspector, there were present: The Mayor (Alderman F. Bond), the Deputy-Mayor (Alderman J. A. Paton, J.P.), Aldermen G. H. Gray and J. B. Wall, Councillors J. E. Stevens, A. Winaland, and W. Brown, Captain Tosswill (representing the D.D.M.S. Eastern Command), by the request of the Local Government Board, Dr. G. H. Weston (Medical Officer of Health), Mr. G. Ball (Borough Surveyor), and Mr. T. E. Rodgers (Town Clerk). The fact of Captain Tosswill and Dr. Weston wearing khaki uniforms imparted an unwonted military air to the proceedings.


Having given the usual figures as to the population, rateable value, etc, of the borough, the Town Clerk said that it would perhaps be urged that the Council’s intention to proceed with this work was decided upon before the War, and that that altered the condition of matters, especially as regarded the expenditure of this particular sum of money. With regard to that point he was absolutely certain that however strongly any opposition of that nature might be urged, the Council could be relied upon not to spend one single penny in relation to this scheme unless they were absolutely certain that the money must be spent. Even at this time the health and reputation of the borough must not be risked, and however strongly it might be urged that this was not the time for spending capital moneys, the Council would not embark on expenditure unless they were absolutely convinced that it was necessary. It might also be urged by others that this scheme was premature. For the last ten years the Council had been discussing the question of this hospital  – in fact, nearly 15 years ago they had an application before the Local Government Board with the object of setting aside a portion of the land for hospital purposes, and twelve or thirteen years ago the Council went so far as to advertise for competitive designs for the hospital, got plans in, and, he thought, awarded a prize to the successful competitor. In spite of that, however, nothing in the shape of permanent works had been carried out, and they had been dragging along. It might be said that inasmuch as those building had been sufficient for the past ten years for the needs of the borough, they would also be for the next ten years, but there was too much conjecture about it, and an element of risk which the Council did not wish to run, especially bearing in mind the very large number of prosperous preparatory schools in the district. For its size, he did not suppose there was a town in the South of England, or along the English Coast, that had a better supply of preparatory schools than Bexhill, and the population represented there must be very considerable. From that standpoint, and also from the standpoint that the town catered for visitors, and that it ranked as a health resort, it was most desirable that its equipment in this respect should be beyond criticism.


There had been a criticism in the Council on the lines he had suggested, but there had been no opposition whatever as regarded the proposal they were submitting with respect to the site. The Council were quite agreed on that matter. The two northerly portions of the ground, consisting of four and a half and four acres respectively, were the best site for the hospital purposes, and there was a further advantage in using this four and a half acres, because that was the site on which at the present moment they had buildings which had been sufficient for the last ten years, and it was proposed, although they were asking the Board to approve of the complete scheme, to carry it out in portions, and in the meantime make use of such parts of the temporary buildings as might continue fit for use. There could be no objection to the use of the ground, because it had been used for hospital purposes for the last twelve years.

The Inspector _______ I thought some of these were twenty years old.
The Mayor said that they were twenty years old, as he could remember them for that period.


Passing to the existing accommodation, the Town Clerk said there was a corrugated iron building containing two wards of five beds each. The diphtheria block was another corrugated iron building with two wards of three beds each. There were three Berthon huts, one used for typhoid cases and containing two beds, and the other two used by the Matron as a sitting room, dining room, and bedroom, coal store, etc. The laundry has recently been erected, this being part of the permanent scheme, and added to this block at a cost of £64.

The Town Clerk then proceeded to read a number of reports by the Medical Officer regarding the present buildings, all of which spoke of their leaky condition and general bad state. He went on to say that although the Council were asking for approval of the whole scheme they did not say it was absolutely necessary at the moment to proceed with the completion of the scheme, but they contended there were portions which ought to be got on with without delay. They thought they could get along with an expenditure of £4,000 now.


Describing the proposed new buildings, the Town Clerk said that the administrative block contained three bedrooms, and two more had been added to that scheme to comply with the Board’s wishes, and a better stretch had been provided. The next block containing the laundry, had had a mortuary added at the Board’s suggestion. The scarlet fever block would contain 14 beds, and a duplicate block of 14 beds for diphtheria cases. How the latter came about he could not say, because they had been going forward on the basis of four beds being sufficient for diphtheria purposes. He was, therefore, going to represent to the Inspector that at present a diphtheria block of four beds was all they required. The Surveyor was going to put in an amended estimate, which would reduce the application to £5,310. There would also be an observation block of four beds in two cubicle wards. It was part of the present scheme to use a portion of the present diphtheria block for convalescent cases.


Dr. Weston said he had been connected as Medical Officer with Bexhill since July 1912. When he came he found the buildings as described, and during the first winter he was very much struck by the extreme difficulty of nursing scarlet fever cases in buildings of that character, He found that cases of scarlet fever did not get on as well as he would have expected, and, as described in the opening, the difficulty of separating acute cases from sub-acute cases was so pronounced that it constituted a grave danger of what was known as return cases. In every hospital there was the possibility of mistaken diagnosis, such as measles being admitted under the head of scarlet fever. It was absolutely impossible to separate cases of that sort if they came in, and the consequence was that during the first winter as Medical Officer he had one case of measles admitted which infected a number of patients just recovering from scarletina. He thought that a hospital provided to meet the needs of a community like Bexhill, with its large number of private schools, representing something like 2000 children, required a larger number of beds per thousand than was usually allotted. The diphtheria block had not been in quite such a bad state as the top block, being a new building. It had one marked defect, however, for at the south-west corner they had had extreme difficulty in making it weatherproof, and had been swamped out. He had been hoping to make use of the existing buildings as far as possible in his scheme for convalescent patients, and, as the borough developed, and the whole scheme could be carried out, the existing buildings, separated by a screen, which he was careful to keep, would be suitable for tubercular cases. The administrative block was absolutely required. They were working on a staff consisting of the matron, a nurse, and a general servant. He proposed to engage a probationer when the scheme was in further working order. He regarded the site as quite a good one, for it was airy, protected, and exceedingly pleasant.


The Mayor, supporting the application said that the question of an isolation hospital had been before the Council for a great many years, as the Town Clerk had said, and, of course it had always met with a certain amount of opposition, because members of the Council were more inclined to spend money on things that were showy and attractive than on those things which were not quite so attractive, but quite essential to the health and reputation of the borough. Anyone strolling casually past the present isolation hospital might think it was an encampment of a few wigwams, and not intended to be of a permanent nature. The Town Council did what they could to put up what was necessary on the smallest expenditure. They found that semi-permanent buildings were being erected in different parts of the country, and sent a Committee to visit them. They came away dissatisfied with what they saw, and of the opinion that what was now recommended would be more satisfactory, and cheaper into the bargain. The Council thought the time had come to put up a permanent building. Now that the War was on they did not want to spend more money than was absolutely necessary. But they had been told by the Local Government Board that they should have a scheme ready in case there should be any shortage of work, and knowing that it might possibly occur at the end of the War, they thought the Council should have a scheme that could be at once put in hand, without having to wait for the various formalities to be gone through.
In reply to a remark by the Inspector, to the effect that the scholars at private schools ought not to be admitted on privileged terms, the Mayor said that a charge of about 15s per week was made.

The Inspector replied that personally he thought it was fairer to do away with charges altogether, and let it come on the rates. People with large incomes were generally paying more in rates. This was only his personal opinion, however.


Alderman Paton said that he entirely supported what the Mayor had said, and he confessed he was one of those who would rather have money spent on a more attractive object, but at the same time he was fully convinced that they would not be doing their duty to the town if they did not make provision for a proper isolation hospital. The present buildings were not in keeping with the town. They served their purpose when first put up, no doubt, but they lacked many of the essentials of an isolation hospital. Parents had refused to allow their children to go there, and that was a source of danger. As the present temporary buildings gave out he thought they ought to put up permanent ones. He would support such buildings being erected during the War as would be for the welfare of the town.

The Inspector _________ I may take it the intention of the Council is not to put up the whole of the blocks now.
The Town Clerk ________ That is so, not the whole.

Alderman Gray (Chairman of the Sanitary Committee) said that they had a very valuable and capable Matron, who had no objection to doing many things about the hospital than many matrons would not do, but she had intimated that if proper provision was not made very shortly she would have to resign, and that would be a serious matter for the Committee. Alderman Gray went on to refer to the danger of the importation of epidemics in a town that attracted so many visitors as Bexhill. At first the Committee were in favour of semi-temporary buildings, but afterwards decided that it would be much better to go for permanent ones.


Councillor Stevens said he did not want to directly oppose the scheme, but he asked the Inspector to be very careful to see that the proposed buildings were absolutely necessary. He would agree with Alderman Paton as to having money spent on more attractive things, but they had never gone against anything for the benefit of the town, and when the Mayor came to think over that subject he would rather regret having made the remark.

The Mayor ______ Not at all.

Councillor Stevens went on to express agreement with replacing the old buildings with permanent ones, but they ought not to go too fast. They should only put up buildings that were absolutely necessary for the immediate requirements of the town, leaving a margin. The only fear he had was that if the loan was granted unconditionally the Committee, knowing that they had the money in their hands, would want to go the whole hog.

The Mayor _______ He has done the same himself. (Laughter)


Councillor Stevens added that he thought it was a time when they should be extremely cautious in their expenditure. The scheme might be all right, and he had nothing to say against it, excepting that he thought it was far in advance of what they needed at the moment. He did not think they had ever had the hospital full, and they frequently had reports that it was empty. As a health resort Bexhill was second to none. If they had an epidemic they would have to face it, but they did not look for anything of the sort. If the loan was granted he hoped that there would be a restriction that only those buildings that were absolutely necessary should be put up.

Councillor Winsland said he was in sympathy with the scheme, but while the War was on he thought they could go on fairly comfortably with the present buildings.

Councillor Brown said he believed this was a case of where delay would be dangerous. They were running a bigger risk of infectious disease now than ever before, owing to the large number of troops in the town. With regard to the private schools, Bexhill depended a great deal on them, and they were one of the greatest assets they had. He thought the Council should go forward with the scheme, for public health of the town stood before anything else.

The Inquiry then closed, having lasted an hour and a half.


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