Trafford General Hospital: a conjuring of spatial significance

Sang Ik Song
University of Limerick, Ireland (Spring 2015)

 

 “Health Secretary Bevin with ‘First NHS Patient’ Sylvia Diggory in Trafford’s Park Hospital”

On July 5, 1948, the then health secretary Aneurin Bevan officially launched the British National Health Service (NHS) at Trafford’s Park Hospital.1 The picture of Nye Bevan, suited and clean cut by the bedside of Sylvia Diggory, the first NHS patient, stands iconic in the heralding of a new age of universal healthcare.

At least, that’s how the story is told.

The historical relevance and symbolism of Trafford’s Park Hospital, now Trafford General, is written as ultimately tied to the narrative on the significance of Britain’s NHS. The loudest voices generally adhere to their political proclivities, left or right, and Trafford General oscillates as an emblematic site for their shrill battle. Initially, as the first NHS hospital, Trafford was a representative symbol of ‘civilization’ and ‘modernity,’ a clear symbolic demarcation past the impoverished conditions of a massive war. Now, it stands as a vestigial site, again forced into the grand linear narrative of social welfare and progress, negotiating the nebulous meaning of ‘cost-effectiveness’ and public health.2 Trafford General is a “famous hospital” in that with our ever privileging of the present, our societal gaze leans to the past, to a site that is painted and imbued with the conflicted meaning of a service that stands comprehensively permeated and deeply linked to its populace.

Trafford General Hospital, still “Park Hospital” until 1988, was first opened to patients in 1928.3 This unassuming red-bricked institution was created by the Barton-upon-Irwell Union, conceived from the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 to service the parishes’ poor.4 Cushioned in the intersection of Moorside Road and Bowers Avenue, it accepted casualties by the time the Germans invaded Norway in 1940 and serviced the US troops from November 1943 onward.5 Trafford’s lawn hosted the big band musician Glenn Miller as the war effort was in full swing and Lancashire County Council took the hospital back as the Americans returned home in 1945.6

The iconic picture and the ‘birth’ of the NHS occurred at Trafford General three years later. Sylvia Diggory, then a 13-year-old youth, was captured with Bevin, who also received the symbolic keys of the hospital from Lancashire County Council. Thus, the ‘social imagery’ of the NHS was born. As the NHS grew into the behemoth infrastructure it is today, Trafford General’s fortunes struggled. Unable to keep financially afloat with annual deficits of over £10 million since 2007, Trafford offered itself for acquisition in 2011.7 It was acquired by its neighbouring Central Manchester University Hospital Trust in 2012 and then promptly had to downgrade its A&E unit to an Urgent Care Centre in 2013.8 The hospital lurches on, but continues on the precipice of being perpetually downsized.

The present Trafford General Hospital is certainly not a Great Ormond Street or a Massachusetts General. Its claim to fame is tied to the political discourse of the NHS and that much is very clear. However, I posit a brief caesura in the easy correlation of present-day significance to hospital fame. If medical history has any poignant perspectives to offer, it stands often as the counter-argument to the prevailing privilege of what is deemed the privilege of the present, of utility, and of the grand. A simple synopsis of Trafford General above reflects already much more than the conversations that err on the political slants of policy and NHS delivery. The hospital is much more than the dramatis personae of the doctors, the policymakers, the university academics, or the movements of the state we focus so much on.9Moreover, history well demonstrates the fragility of any institution over a long enough time. Whether one believes the NHS as a vestige of a paternalistic post-war collectivist action or a truly “populist ideal” of enduring uniqueness and service, I posit an attempt to understand Trafford General and many such hospitals that remain as a clinical human space persevering past its singular symbolism and memory.10 A history of ‘space’ is more than a linear teleological reach towards some sort of importance of great discoveries or a list of firsts, but also and equally satisfactorily, a remnant of Glenn Miller’s sweet tunes to the injured soldiers. It is also my junior doctor friend walking down the hallways of Trafford General, shaping the present, asking me to consider writing something on the hospital, a scaffold architectural prism of substance for a community that still simultaneously tears it down and cherishes it. I posit Trafford General Hospital to be important, NHS or not, on the multitude of what is unsaid.

Notes

  1. “NHS at 60: Trafford General: where it all began,” BBC Manchester, July 3, 2008, accessed January 30, 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/manchester/content/articles/2008/07/03/nhs60_trafford_general_hospital_feature.shtml.
  2. Martin Gorsky, “The British National Health Service 1948-2008: A Review of the Historiography,” Social History of Medicine Vol. 21, No. 3 (2008): 437.
  3.  “NHS at 60: Trafford General: where it all began, ” BBC Manchester
  4. Central Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, “History of Trafford General Hospital,” Last accessed January 31, 2015. www.cmft.nhs.uk/media/595590/history%20of%20trafford.pdf.
  5. Central Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, “History of Trafford General Hospital”
  6. Central Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, “History of Trafford General Hospital”
  7. Helen Carter, “Birthplace of the NHS, Trafford general hospital, up for sale,” The Guardian, April 13, 2011, accessed January 30, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/apr/13/trafford-general-nhs-sale.
  8. Denis Campbell, “Trafford Hospital Where NHS was launched will lose A&E unit,” The Guardian, July 11, 2013, accessed January 27, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/jul/11/trafford-hospital-lose-emergency-unit.
  9. Martin Gorsky, “The British National Health Service 1948-2008: A Review of the Historiography,” Social History of Medicine Vol. 21, No. 3 (2008): 438.
  10. Martin Gorsky, “The British National Health Service 1948-2008: A Review of the Historiography,” Social History of Medicine Vol. 21, No. 3 (2008): 437.

 

References

Campbell, Denis. “Trafford Hospital Where NHS was launched will lose A&E unit.” The Guardian, July 11, 2013. Accessed January 27, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/jul/11/trafford-hospital-lose-emergency-unit.
Carter, Helen. “Birthplace of the NHS, Trafford general hospital, up for sale.” The Guardian, April 13, 2011. Accessed January 30, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/apr/13/trafford-general-nhs-sale.
Central Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust. “History of Trafford General Hospital.” Last accessed January 31, 2015. www.cmft.nhs.uk/media/595590/history%20of%20trafford.pdf
Gorsky, Martin. “The British National Health Service 1948-2008: A Review of the Historiography.” Social History of Medicine Vol. 21, No. 3 (2008): 437-458.
“NHS at 60: Trafford General: where it all began.” BBC Manchester, July 3, 2008. Accessed January 30, 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/manchester/content/articles/2008/07/03/nhs60_trafford_general_hospital_feature.shtml.

 


 

SANG IK SONG is presently a first year medical student. Studied history and regional studies with an interest in political theory and medical anthropology. Interested in translating critical theory into practice. Presently, inquiring on the multiplicity of bereavement practices, narrative oncology with dignity interventions, and experiential storytelling of health equity.

 

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