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Staff look back on careers as QEH celebrates 40th birthday

Queen Elizabeth Hospital nurses prize giving back in 1984  Picture: Archant

Queen Elizabeth Hospital nurses prize giving back in 1984 Picture: Archant

As the Queen Elizabeth Hospital celebrates its 40th anniversary, former and current staff look back on their careers.

An Aerial view of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in 1980, when it opened with an expected working life of 30 years  Picture: Archant LibraryAn Aerial view of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in 1980, when it opened with an expected working life of 30 years Picture: Archant Library

The 500-bed QEH on the Gayton Road replaced the old West Norfolk and King’s Lynn Hospital, off London Road, which dated back to 1835.

Now demolished, the old hospital was cramped and the district’s population had rapidly outgrown it as Lynn boomed with new industries and thousands of homes after the war.

MORE - Queen Elizabeth Hospital celebrates 40th aniversary

Mike Brindle, now 85, had joined it as a consultant radiologist in 1972.

“In 1976, we got word we were being allocated one of the new hospitals,” he said. “We were going to have what was called Best Buy Mk2. There was great excitement.”
After four years of what Dr Brindle described as “intensive activity”, the big day came.

Dr Michael Brindle was a consultant radiologist at the West Norfolk and King's Lynn Hospital, who transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital when it opened in July 1980  Picture: Dr Michael BrindleDr Michael Brindle was a consultant radiologist at the West Norfolk and King's Lynn Hospital, who transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital when it opened in July 1980 Picture: Dr Michael Brindle

“Transferring from one active hospital to another on a different site was quite an undertaking,” he said. “But we managed it.”

Radiology grew from three rooms to eight. Since the move, the speciality advanced from simple X-Rays to ultrasound, CT and finally RI scanners.

“It was an exciting time to be there,” said Dr Brindle, who went on to become the treasurer and then the president of the Royal College of Radiologists.

After he retired in 1997, he was given a CBE in honour of his contribution to medicine.

The Duchess of Kent opens the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn  Picture: ArchantThe Duchess of Kent opens the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn Picture: Archant

His son Mark, also now retired, ran the audiology department at the QEH, where his daughter Vicki is still a senior sister working in diabetic care.

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Annette Nichols, 64, moved to the QEH in 1980 as a medical secretary, after working at the West Norfolk and King’s Lynn since 1974.

She rose to be an assistant to the executive directors, went part-time after a heart attack in 2016 and retired in 2018.

Her daughter Hannah Lodge still works at the QEH as head of nutrition and dietetics.

Julia Saunders at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where she has worked for 34 years  Picture: QEHJulia Saunders at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where she has worked for 34 years Picture: QEH

Of the new hospital, she said: “The hospital seemed huge, it was more impersonal probably - at the smaller hospital it was very friendly everyone knew everybody, everyone knew everyone else.

“It was a great place to work. I had a heart attack in 2016 and they saved my life and I can’t speak highly enough of the clinical doctors and nurses who looked after me.

“I was admitted from work and transferred the next day to Papworth Hospital to be operated on, but they were the ones who picked up I had a heart attack and looked after me until I was blue lighted across to Papworth. I can’t speak highly enough of the staff and certainly through this Covid period.

“My daughter who’s working there still on the frontline, I know the terrible fear everyone has had and the frontline staff have been amazing.”

Julia Saunders at the start of her nursing career  Picture: QEHJulia Saunders at the start of her nursing career Picture: QEH

Mrs Nichols’s mother Barbara Bush started at the hospital in 1948 when the NHS began. She worked as a supplies manager and did a lot of commissioning for the QEH when it was built.

She retired in 1990 but carried on working until 2011 as the manager in the League of Friends shop as a volunteer and worked there until three months before she died in June of that year.

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“Altogether we’ve had about 72 years between the three of us of working for the NHS,” said Mrs Nichols.

“I think a lot of things have gone round in circles, I think it’s changed for the better but the population has changed it was a lot smaller when I first started. King’s Lynn was a lot smaller so there wasn’t as many people but things have moved on. I’ve seen so many chief executives come through and changes in staff, I think there are very few who are still there now that probably were then when I started in 1974.

“They’ve made a big difference to the area and certainly done their best. The hospital certainly had a bit of a kicking with the CQC (Care Quality Commission) in the past but they’ve always done their best and tried to do the best for the patients. They’ve always been there for me and my family when we’ve needed them.”

Practice development nurse Julia Saunders, one of the hospital’s longest-serving nurses, remembers patients being given sherry on the wards, while their medication was written on lolly sticks.

MORE - We used to give the patients sherry: Nurse remembers the QEH in the 1980s

Mrs Saunders, who joined the hospital as a student nurse six months after it opened, said the biggest change was the rapid advance of technology, which has revolutionised healthcare.

She said the next 40 years would bring challenges such as how care can be provided for an aging population, along with new diseases and conditions evolving.

“Nurses will be educated not just in one field of nursing but probably with more emphasis on more holistic care, with equal focus on people’s mental and physical well-being,” she said.

Mrs Saunders said virtual clinics, as well as face-to-face interactions would take place.

She added: “At the end of it all it will still be about collaborative working, listening to each other and more importantly delivering care with kindness and compassion.”

After four decades at the QEH, she said she would recommend nursing as a career.

“I am proud of my profession,” she said. “I still get excited about the developments and new challenges, the research, the way the circle of life turns and we reflect and take the best of what we have learnt to move forward. There are so many opportunities and we will always need health care.”

An uncertain future

Behind the celebrations lies a more serious prognosis.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital is no longer fit for purpose and needs a £250m upgrade to meet the demands of modern medicine and the growing community it serves.

Ironically, Use It Up And Wear It Out by Odyssey topped the singles charts on the day the QEH opened its doors on July 22, 1980.

It was one of a clutch of so-called Best Buy hospitals built from prefabricated components to speed up the modernisation of the NHS.

They were only intended to have a working life of 30 years.

But the ailing QEH is still struggling on a decade after it should have been replaced.

Senior managers have drawn up a £250m blueprint for revamping it, which they unveiled in March.

It includes a new emergency floor, a frailty unit, upgraded inpatient wards, new theatres, a single outpatient department and a new facility for women and children’s services.

In their manifesto for December’s general election, the Conservatives pledged to build 40 new hospitals. Prime minister Boris Johnson said the QEH’s proposals were under “active consideration” when North West Norfolk MP James Wild raised them in Parliament.


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