In 1990 the National Health Service decided that the much-loved Brackley Cottage Hospital was no longer viable and needed to be closed. The residents of the town and its surrounding villages, however, had other ideas, and, spearheaded by the then Town Mayor of Brackley, George Britchfield, an ambitious project began to “save the Cottage”. A charitable trust, of which George became the first chairman, was set up to run the hospital thanks to public donations, subscriptions and legacies. There were some private nursing home beds and others which were rented to the NHS for intermediate care. In spite of many pressures, this continued for 25 years until it proved impossible to recruit sufficient trained permanent staff to ensure the safe working of the hospital, and a sad decision was taken to close its doors on 31 March 2015.
The trustees had hoped to keep the Cottage open until those intermediate care beds could be reprovisioned in a new NHS facility, something which the town had long hoped for and which had, for many years, proved to be tantalisingly so near on many occasions and yet, ultimately, so far away. This original aspiration proved to be not possible; however, eventually in 2018, the dream started to become reality. A site was identified off Northampton Road and a large-scale project was undertaken to construct a building which would house the Brackley Medical Centre (one of Brackley’s two GP surgeries) as well as outpatient services offered to the town by neighbouring NHS trusts in Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire.
Building began in the spring of 2019 and completion was anticipated within 15 months. We were looking at an opening – we thought – in May 2020, but then Covid struck. Building work was not completely halted: those tradesmen who could travel safely to the site and could work alone, thus maintaining social distancing, could continue. Certain tradesmen could not if they worked for sub-contractors who chose to furlough their staff. Additionally, some of the materials that were on order were reassigned to the Nightingale hospitals. The building was completed and it was opened in part in November 2020; the GP surgery moved in very quickly and has been followed by certain of the outpatient services.
For the town of Brackley and the surrounding area, one of the most important assets of this new building is the provision on the second floor of 16 intermediate care (step-down or step-up) beds, thus finally achieving the ambition of restoring to the community the facility long provided by the Cottage. It is hoped that the first patients will be installed at the end of March 2021.
In the autumn of 2019, a new charitable organisation was set up, the Brackley Community Hospital 2020 Trust: this body manages the substantial public funds that have been raised – largely through self-starter projects and individual initiatives – with the purpose of enhancing those services and facilities which are provided by the National Health Service. It is important to stress that the hospital is an NHS facility and is in no way private. Nothing that is charitably funded would not have been onsite – eventually. The charity has just aimed to hasten the process along. Public fund-raising, together with a substantial grant from the Brackley Hospital Trust (the old Cottage), has reached in excess of £180,000 and has ensured that, instead of a second-hand portable and basic x-ray machine, the building will have a digital state-of-the-art x-ray machine with fixed bed. Funds are already in hand for Smart television sets in each of the 16 rooms, enabling communication between patients and families and consultants, and these sets will be free at the point of use. Comfortable chairs for patients and visitors are being procured, to a variety of specifications so that they can offer, additionally, therapeutic benefits. Also on the list is an ultra-sound scanner which will have an inbuilt facility for use by visiting cardiologists, and the Trust will contribute, as and when required, towards equipment for a number of other departments.
The hospital will bring consultants to the patients rather than the other way round and is a 21st-century facility for a growing community. It has proved its worth already as a vaccination centre for Covid and that is just the start of things.
Our thanks go to everybody who has contributed thus far in any way towards the success that is Brackley Community Hospital. Support continues to be appreciated and will continue to be required for many years to come as our needs become more complex and our hospital gives back more and more to the local community.