Widow Sagle Bernstein’s Cromer Hospital cash gift grew by �5m

A cash gift which paid for Cromer's new hospital has made �5m on the money markets since it was invested.

The boost to the original �11.4m legacy by millionairess Sagle Bernstein has helped provide a new �14.9m hospital which opened its doors to patients earlier this month.

The rise in value of the bequest came after initial concerns, nearly a decade ago, when its value slumped on the stock market, prompting health chiefs to switch it to a less risky portfolio of investments.

Figures obtained by the EDP through a freedom of information request show the Bernstein money fell to �10.3m at its lowest point in March 2003, but made �5,061,000 from 'interest, dividends, and sale of investments' by the end of February.

Anna Dugdale, chief executive of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital Trust, which runs Cromer as its only satellite unit, said: 'We have invested the legacies carefully and wisely and the returns we've received have enabled us to create a hospital we're really proud of.'

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The figures also show the hospital project is costing �14,911,000 – with �10.6m being paid to the builders on a guaranteed maximum price contract.

A further �2.8m went on a temporary boiler, design fees, exploratory costs, 'scoping and management', with �1.5m for equipment and decommissioning at the site, where the old hospital has been knocked down as the new one went up.

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The new hospital will cost about �935,000 a year to run, slightly up on the �922,000 for the old one. And there will be �400,000 left over – which a spokesman for the N&N said was 'ring-fenced for the new Cromer hospital'.

The executor of Mrs Bernstein's will, Nigel Unsworth, said the initial drop in value of the gift was 'disappointing' but the situation had been retrieved.

He was more concerned, as others have been, that the sum – left following the 82-year-old widow's death in 2000 – had 'taken forever' to be spent.

Since the announcement of the gift from the widow of a businessman, who lived quietly in the town, plans to provide a new hospital were dogged with a string of problems. Changes of health authority, problems in getting funding approval, trouble in finding a new site, bids to preserve parts of the historic old 1930s hospital and the discovery of signs of bats in a roof all delayed the project.

A �25m scheme on the existing site was eventually pruned to one using just the locally-gifted cash and not having to rely on other funding.

Sagle Bernstein lived at the Richmond Court Gardens luxury apartment complex with her sister, Muriel Thoms, and left the cash as a thank you for the care Mrs Thoms received at the local hospital. There has also been debate about whether she intended it to be spent on boosting patient comforts rather than a rebuild.

But former bank manager Mr Unsworth said: 'It was always the intention for the money to be used for the general benefit of Cromer and its residents, but the only thing Sagle would have been disappointed about was how long it had taken.'

He said it was a pity many of the people Mrs Bernstein knew in Cromer did not live to benefit directly but he was 'delighted we've finally reached this stage', adding: 'The sisters would have been happy with how the money has been spent.'

Close friend and neighbour Babs Hitchings, who has visited the new building, also said it was 'a sad thing' the money took so long to spend, but added: 'At last her money is being spent as near to what she wished. I think she would be thrilled.'

The sisters are being remembered at the new hospital with the minor injuries unit (MIU) being named after Mrs Bernstein and a day procedure unit after Mrs Thoms.

Another gift of �1m by Bacton widow Phyllis Cox has made �332,000 over the years, the FOI figures reveal, and a new audiology unit will be named after her.

Paintings by Mrs Bernstein will also be housed in the new building. They are currently being cleaned and will be returned at the end of December to be hung either in the MIU or meeting room and corridors.

There will also be a plaque installed with her picture in the MIU detailing her legacy, which also left funds to the local lifeboat, ambulance service and two Jewish charities.

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