Many Happy Returns!

Spire Murrayfield celebrates 30 years of Private Healthcare on the Wirral

September 15th will be a very auspicious date this year. Now, many readers will know this is already Battle of Britain Day, an opportunity to pay our respects to ‘The Few’ made so famous by Winston Churchill’s oratory. However, the date commemorates another important landmark – the 30th Anniversary of Spire Murrayfield Hospital. To mark the occasion, Rob Jackson looks back on three decades of private healthcare in the area.

Today, Spire Murrayfield may seem an integral part of the local landscape. Yet it was not always like this. Indeed, for most of the 20th century the Wirral had no private hospital of its own at all. While comparable parts of the country were enjoying private healthcare on their doorstep, Wirral patients and their visitors had to cross the Mersey to Liverpool’s Lourdes, or else travel to the Nuffield in Chester.

Consultants, too, were required to drive miles around the region on their rounds, often starting their day alongside the farmyard cockerel and finishing well after the last cow had come home. Clearly, an unsatisfactory situation all-round. In the late 1960’s, Mr. Ken Edwardson, Consultant Surgeon at Clatterbridge Hospital, could see just how inadequate the existing arrangements were.

For example, at Clatterbridge you could opt for private treatment but had to be accommodated in a side room attached to the main ward. Although offering excellent healthcare, like many contemporary NHS hospitals Clatterbridge was an institution with its origins in the Dickensian workhouse era. Some wards were even housed in converted military huts. Facilities at Lourdes were also far from ideal. At that time, there was only one operating theatre. This meant that if there were any problems, operations needed to be rescheduled, often involving a 2 or 3 hour delay. Not good news for anybody.

Time For Action

The Wirral deserved better, and Ken Edwardson resolved to do something about it. He approached fellow consultants Terry Ramsell and Roger Mawdesly with a view to establishing the area’s own private hospital. They formed a pilot group, and began looking for suitable premises. Their brief was certainly a wide one – any building that looked as if it could be converted into a hospital! Simultaneously, they contacted consultant colleagues throughout the Wirral to ascertain whether they would use the proposed hospital.

Consultants were also asked if they were prepared to contribute financially to the project. And the response? Overwhelming on both counts! The green light at last! Eventually, a suitable site was found. A private school in Rocky Lane, Heswall, was for sale. Known as Murrayfield, this was owned by a certain Mrs. Reece, who turned out to be the widow of celebrated TV actor Brian Reece.

In 1974 a fundraising appeal was launched, again with very positive results. Money simply poured in! This, too, at a time of economic difficulties, with Premier Ted Heath putting the country on a 3 day week. It goes to shows how much the area wanted the hospital!

Enter BUPA

As so often happens, an unforeseen event then changed the course of events entirely. With the appeal halfway to its target, the pilot group received an approach from BUPA, who had noted the strength of local support.

They wanted to build the hospital, but had sourced an alternative site, that of the former Thingwall Children’s Hospital in Holmwood Drive, Thingwall. This would be ideal for a 40 bed hospital with all support facilities.

Ideal it proved! An innovative hospital building was duly designed, staff recruited and Murrayfield Hospital opened its doors for the first time in September, 1982. By comparison with today, the numbers were small. Initially, there were approximately 30 consultants sharing 3 consulting rooms, and supported by a nursing and administration team led by first Hospital Director was Diane Higham. The rest, as they say, is history.

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What’s in a name?

As a local, you may still think of the hospital as BUPA Murrayfield Hospital. The actual name is now Spire Murrayfield Hospital. Yet why Murrayfield?

As described, the original site intended for the hospital was that of the Murrayfield private school. Although this was superseded, the founders insisted that the name Murrayfield be retained. To this day you will see the school’s honours boards in the hospital reception area.

Paying for private treatment at Spire Murrayfield Hospital Wirral

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© Spire Healthcare Group plc (2016)