The hospital which helped shape a town

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AN iconic part of Hartlepool’s history may not stand any more. But Cameron’s Hospital still has a place in the hearts of many people. After all, thousands of them were born there. With the help of the staff at Hartlepool Central Library, CHRIS CORDNER begins a series of stories with a look back on the early years.

MORE than 100 years ago, it took just £20,000 to set up a hospital in Hartlepool.

In 1905, Camerons Hospital began its work as a place for treating the sick of the town, all within a 40-bed centre with separate units for men and women.

That and a couple of ancillary rooms were all that it took for an icon to be formed.

The then MP for Hartlepool Sir Christopher Furness wanted a a trust which would ensure Hartlepool had a health system which was funded at all times.

And so Camerons Hospital began its life, although it was by no means smooth running.

The constant worry of finding the money to keep the place open, and keep the staff paid, was there.

And that wasn’t the only tribulation.

Within four years, in 1909, staff were having to operate in a theatre where one nurse held a lantern over a patient while surgery took place.

On another occasion, nurses had to fill an operating theatre with gas burners to get the room hot enough for surgery. Even then it was still 20 degrees below the required rate.

But the main thing was, Camerons was struggling on and it was growing attractive to organisations which were keen to help with funding.

Groups across town were soon providing everything from nightdresses to flower vases, pyjamas to milk and sweets.

And the local newspaper the Northern Daily Mail (the forerunner of the Hartlepool Mail) did its bit.

We chipped in with coke and coal so that the hospital fires could keep on burning. Others provided more unusual donations of pheasants and even manure. The message was there though. The hospital was growing in public popularity.

With major events in world history taking their toll, such as the outbreak of the First World War, it was never going to be easy for Camerons to get off to a flying start.

Many nurses would be signed up for duty with the Territorial Nursing Force Service. Back on the wards, Camerons had to do without a Christmas tree on more than one occasion as Britain continued the war effort.

Another major problem was the pay level. A privately funded hospital could not easily afford massive wages and that meant recruitment was an issue.

So was keeping the people who were already there.

Yet one matron came up with the answer of a floating scale where probationary nurses would receive £5 for their first year, £10 for the second and £15 for the third.

It was just as hard to keep the laundresses who were responsible for the ever-demanding task of washing sheets and other items. In the end, the role of under-laundress was created to ease the burden.

It was fair reward for a hard day’s work which sometimes included having to take lice-infected clothes off the backs of patients, and disinfecting them.