YOUR celebration of the 50th anniversary of Airedale General Hospital was most evocative.

In 1969, as a recently-appointed postgraduate research officer working jointly in the Department of Statistics and the Medical Architecture Research Unit at the then Northern Polytechnic (now London Metropolitan University), I visited the hospital in its final stages of development as part of a study I was conducting into the design of outpatient departments. At the time it was known as the PGH600 – signifying a Peripheral General Hospital of 600 beds – and, if I recall rightly, first became the Eastburn General Hospital before it got its current designation.

The design of the hospital, which you drew attention to, was interesting at the time. It marked the new era of 'long life, loose fit, low energy'. The key design principle was one of flexibility, recognising the changes that healthcare systems are continuously required to respond to. This contrasted with the ‘high tech’ model that was also then being explored – epitomised in the Greenwich District Hospital, opened with great fanfare at about the same time with well over 1,000 beds, designed and built around a high tech paternoster circulation system (which never actually operated, as the firm that installed it went bankrupt before the hospital was opened).

Hospital architecture was at the time in a stage of rapid learning, given that there were no new hospitals built in the first 15 to 20 years of the National Health Service. The success of the Airedale Hospital is a tribute to the adaptability of the National Health Service and provided a model of the district general hospital that was to be emulated in developing healthcare systems around the world. Incidentally, the Greenwich District Hospital was closed some years back.

COLIN THUNHURST

(PhD in Epidemiology and Public Health)

Sandbeds

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