By Miranda Robertson
A £750,000 cash injection has secured the future of Shaftesbury’s Westminster Memorial Hospital – with a new access road and a dedicated mental health unit.
A report by the CCG in 2017 identified a number of issues at the hospital, and supporters were gravely concerned the report could lead to its demise.
But a successful Save Our Beds campaign won the day, and now the hospital’s Friends group are celebrating having addressed one of the main criticisms of the report – access.
In 2019 they bought a house neighbouring the hospital grounds, costing £490,000 and set about a £40,000 project to convert it into a mental health clinic, with internet access – previously clinical staff would have to drive to the hospital to file their reports.
The garden of the house was made into car parking and made way for a new access road, costing about £250,000.
“Previously you couldn’t get a fire engine into the hospital site,” said Friends chairman Julian Prichard. “The report was really saying the hospital wasn’t fit for purpose, so we had to do something to address the issues raised.”
He added: “We did what we could to rectify problems to take away the CCG’s reasons for closing the hospital, and access was absolutely critical.”
The new access road was opened by Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant for Dorset, Angus Campbell, with special guests North Dorset MP Simon Hoare, Dorset Council chairman Val Pothecary, NHS staff, and trustees past and present from the Friends of Westminster Memorial Hospital.
The project aims to ease problems highlighted in Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group’s ‘Strategic Outline Case for a Community Hub in Shaftesbury / Gillingham Final Draft June 30 2017’, which noted access issues. The document said: “The site is land-locked and accessible by a narrow lane, meaning that it would be very challenging to address these access issues.”
Mr Prichard added: “Anyone arriving at or leaving the patients’ car park will know of the previous difficulties encountered when meeting other vehicles and this will substantially improve the patient experience by increasing the parking area and allowing flow through the site.
“The access road will also allow easy access for emergency vehicles into both sides of the hospital.”
Chris Lawrence, Dorset HealthCare’s Director of Estates and Facilities, said: “We are very grateful to the Friends of Westminster Memorial Hospital for funding this project.
“The improvements to the site have given us five extra spaces and also connected the car parks on Abbey Walk and Magdalene Lane.
“This ensures our patients can easily find any unused spaces as they arrive, without adding to the traffic along the two adjacent lanes and the B3091 Bimport.
“The new access road has also helped resolve a ‘pinch point’ where vehicles were entering and leaving through one entrance. The improved traffic flow will benefit staff and patients,
and provide a better visitor experience overall.”
The access project is the largest funded by the Friends to date. Funding came from legacies.
Julian added: “I would like to thank everyone who has given so generously to the Friends. It is only with such amazing support that this project has been possible.
“I would also like to say how grateful we are to Dorset HealthCare, who have worked hard to bring this project to fruition, and all the staff at the hospital who provide such wonderful health care.”
To find out how to support the Friends, go to friendsofwmh.org.uk