A Heated Debate
In 1992 the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust was established to manage three major hospitals: the Coventry and Warwickshire, Walsgrave, and Hospital of St Cross, Rugby. Soon after this, it announced its intention to close the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital. A period of uncertainty followed. However, in 2002 the Trust agreed a contract with the construction company Skanska Innisfree to build a 1,200 bed ‘super hospital’ on the Walsgrave site, at a cost of over £400 million. With the completion of the new University Hospital, in July 2006 both the Coventry and Warwickshire and Walsgrave Hospitals finally closed their doors.
Proposals for closure provoked heated debate. The critics objected to relocation from the centre of the city – easily accessible to all via public transport – to a site on the outskirts of the city. ‘Central, that is where we need a hospital’, said one former member of staff. ‘It’s going to be difficult’, said another of the journey for patients who live on the other side of Coventry.
The advocates for closure emphasised the benefits of modern design and of bringing all services together under one roof. As a retired consultant noted, ‘One of the great difficulties about running the medical services at Coventry was this division between the different hospitals.’ Separating accident services from the main hospital services was particularly problematic.
A Historical Perspective
Looking at the history of the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital offers perspective to the debate. There had been two great moments of building and renewal: the first, in 1860s, with the construction of the Stoney Stanton Road site; the second, a century later in the 1960s, in the development of the Walsgrave Hospital.
The success of the first lay in its development of a relationship with the city and its people. The hospital was undoubtedly one founded on civic pride, but events took their toll. Although the shared experience of the Blitz cemented the relationship of Coventry’s people with its hospital, the resulting damage accelerated a widening gap between capacity and demand caused by a growing population and the ever-increasing ambitions of modern medicine.
The building of the Walsgrave in the 1960s was an attempt, itself delayed by two decades, to address this problem. The latest in modern design would ‘change everything’. As it turned out, this was only a temporary solution.
Sites of Memory
For the citizens of Coventry, the closure of the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital sees the end of an institution that has served generations of their families. The staff of the hospital has shared in this history, and here the site has additional meaning as a place of community in its own right and as a monument to their working lives.
The dominant feeling among staff interviewed by the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital Project has been one of sadness to leave a particularly close-knit and ‘homely’ community, but also a sense of inevitability about the need for change and a recognition of the advantages of the new hospital in terms of facilities and the concentration of services on a single site. There may be no reconciling these feelings, except perhaps through remembering what we can about the hospital.