Founded on the principles that healthcare should be comprehensive, universal and free at the point of delivery, the National Health Service was one of the major social reforms following the Second World War.
Now, 70 years on from the Appointed Day, July 5 1948, the ethos of the NHS is largely the same now as it was then. But undoubtedly, the landscape of healthcare in the UK has also seen dramatic change in that time, and the same is true for services in the Harrogate District. At one time, the district boasted six hospitals, with sites in Ripon, Knaresborough, Scotton and three in Harrogate town alone. Retired Occupational Therapy Lead at Harrogate District Hospital, Helen Morton, left Glasgow for Harrogate in 1981 and worked in five of the hospitals throughout her career. She said: “They were all lovely facilities. The Royal Baths Hospital had been the Northern centre for Rheumatology diseases, Scotton Banks was originally a TB unit, Knaresborough Hospital had been the old ‘poor house’, so they all had their own origins.” Before the current District Hospital was built in the 1970s, Harrogate was largely served by the General Hospital, which stood just off Knaresborough Road and was built in 1932. But Harrogate’s history as a healthcare centre began much before the 1930s. Most Harrogatonians know that during the mid-19th century, visitors flocked from far and wide to reap the benefits of the spa waters, which were hailed as a cure for various ailments. However it wasn’t until 1870 that the idea for a general hospital was suggested by the Rev CW Roberts. After a meeting of some of the town’s eminent figures at the time, it was agreed a hospital should be opened, with services ranging in price from 3s to 7s 6d. In May that year two cottages were bought providing six beds, but with a population of 9,000 people living across Harrogate, Bilton and Pannal, it soon became clear the hospital was too small to meet the needs of the town. Three years later a new building, which later became the Masonic Hall, was purchased for £550 and provided 12 beds. In 1883, a new purpose-built hospital was constructed on Belford Road, where St Peter’s Primary School now stands, and created 20 beds for the area at a cost of £6,250. By the turn of the 20th century, the Belford Road site was renamed the Harrogate Infirmary and had grown to 55 beds with a team of less than 20 nursing staff. The onset of the First World War greatly increased demands on hospitals across the country and bed crises were common, so after the war negotiations began for a new hospital; The General. From 1932 until 1998 the General Hospital was the main server of care needs in the district. But in the early 1970s the Harrogate Health Trust began building a new District Hospital on Lancaster Park Road. By January 1975, the first phase was complete and Princess Margaret visited for the official opening of the site, which consisted solely of an Accident and Emergency department, some laboratories and just a few medical wards. In 1987 the first phase of a £7 million package of improvements across Harrogate’s District and General Hospitals was launched early. The initial phase focussed a £1 million investment on the District Hospital to create two 30-bed surgical wards, a psychiatric day hospital and improved provision for geriatric patients. But eventually financial challenges reached a tipping point in Harrogate for the NHS and a £40 million centralisation plan to move the majority of its services in the district to one site was drawn up. The Royal Bath Hospital closed shortly after the NHS stopped prescribing spa days for patients and the hospitals in Knaresborough and Scotton followed suit. In May 1998 the Trust announced the sale of its General Hospital site to a housing developer and later that year the construction of the District site was completed with the opening of the Strayside wing in December. To mark the opening, The Queen and Prince Philip visited the hospital and unveiled a plaque, which still has pride of place on the maternity ward in the Strayside wing today. The most recent extension of the District Hospital site was the creation of the Sir Robert Ogden Macmillan Centre in 2014. In 2016, the purpose built cancer unit was also graced by royal presence, when Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall paid a visit