As a member of the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, I was invited to a special celebration for the 60th Birthday of the NHS, which included a Medical Museum Tour and a Presentation Seminar. It was particularly appropriate for me, since it is exactly 60 years that I have been a patient at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, beginning with the birth of my children.
The Medical Museum was fascinating in itself but it was brought back to life by the expert descriptions provided us by Dr. Marshall Barr, Chairman of the Berkshire Medical Heritage Centre. The main point of interest for most of us was the huge iron lung in which patients of former years had to spend weeks, months, even years! (My nephew up in Newcastle confirmed this, when I told him, because in his youth he had played his guitar to a man who had been in an iron lung for years in his front room. The iron lung took up almost all the room.)
Dr. Barr explained how the nurses looked through the glass in the top to see how the patient was and he demonstrated how they used three ‘port-holes’ in the side of the iron lung to attend to the patient, who was on a stretcher so that they could slide him out for toilet purposes! It was not much of a life, and we were very thankful for the way in which science and medical practice has evolved, making modern treatment so much more comfortable and successful.
Another object of interest (that made a few people shudder!) was a very ancient dentist’s chair! There was an ancient test card for colour blindness and Dr. Barr told us that men are more often colour blind than women! Then I heard someone near me suddenly gasp, ‘Are they really as big as that?’ She had found two gallstones in a glass case - and they were big!
After scrumptious refreshments, we went into the nurses’ lecture hall for the power point presentation. First, Dr. Barr took us through the history of the Royal Berks. Trust, from 1839 when a nurse’s wages were £12 per annum plus board lodging, to 1890when Battle Hospital was both a workhouse and a hospital caring for 'paupers, tramps, hospital patients and imbeciles'), to the Second World War (and the treatment of Douglas Bader after his horrific crash), up to the present modern hospital that has been built on to the old hospital to accommodate all the patients from Battle Hospital, on the site of which our Emmanuel Methodist Church has been built.
Then Mr. Colin Maclean, Chair of the Royal Berks. NHS Foundation Trust, spoke of the future – for the next 60 years – listing the demographic changes of an ageing population, falling birth rate, increased immigration, personal behaviour changes and globalisation (including global warming). These have resulted in changes in disease, technology change (biotechnology, IT advances, and robots-surgery), and new treatments (for cancer, baldness, smoking, obesity, replacement of heart valves, kidneys and joints), and the use of stem cells.
With increased life expectancy, the public now expects better chronic disease care, care closer to home, and better prevention of illness. The hospital is only 60 per cent rebuilt and more building is needed for its specialities and for it to, perhaps, become a centre for telemedicine. But is all this affordable? It will need an extra 6 to 16 billion pounds in 2020! Right now the Trust is running well and is ‘the most successful Trust in the South Central Health Authority.
The Medical Museum is open to the public on alternate Sunday afternoons from 2- 4pm, and, if you are able to visit it, you will find it very interesting indeed.