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Friends indeed

The Friends of Victoria Hospital in Wimborne have raised and donated a staggering £6.25 million in twelve years. Eric Black finds out more about their work.

If you walk down the road to the side of Wimborne’s Victoria hospital, there is a new redbrick extension, which gets very close to the road. It does not look like much, in terms of its volume, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in terms of its importance to the future of the hospital.

A familiar sight in Wimborne, the FVH stand is shown here at the annual folk festival

A familiar sight in Wimborne, the FVH stand is shown here at the annual folk festival

Five months before the official opening of the new operating suite at Wimborne’s Victoria Hospital and the organising committee of the Friends of Victoria Hospital (FVH) is having a meeting in its current office. The room is the size of a Victorian two-up-two-down’s lean-to kitchen and only just has enough floor space to permit a fifth person to squeeze a chair in. As well as looking forward to a state-of-the-art operating suite and recovery rooms, the Friends are also looking forward to getting a slightly bigger office, when the works are completed, which doesn’t seem an unfair reward for having raised £2.7 million out of the £3.1 million cost of the new facility.

A sign of things to come: the placard announcing the new surgery suite

A sign of things to come: the placard announcing the new surgery suite

This eye-poppingly generous sum, raised from local people, whose regard for their local hospital seems to know no bounds, is dwarfed, however, by the total sum of £6.25 million, which the Friends have contributed over the last dozen years to ensure that their local hospital keeps up to the standards demanded by Wimborne residents. This is no flash in the pan, though. Ten years ago, for example, the Friends donated nearly £1.9 million towards the Outpatient and Clinical investigations building.
This latest new facility reflects the swing back towards localism from super-hospitals, with Wimborne’s hospital now being in a position to offer more surgery on its constituency’s doorstep than before. It will also be able to offer a different level of surgery than before, thanks to the rather unexciting-sounding laminar flow system, which occupies much of the roof space of the two-storey extension. Thanks to this specialist air-conditioning and purifying system, the cleanliness of the air in the operating suite is sufficiently high to permit orthopaedic surgery to be done, which, compared with other surgery, carries a much graver risk should infection occur. It is, again surprisingly, the recovery area that will probably make more difference than the operating theatre itself, though. With the less-invasive nature of many modern procedures, it is less about the operating table, than about having a ‘clean’ recovery area, which determines how many patients can be tended.

The first stage of building with existing outbuildings being demolished to make way

The first stage of building with existing outbuildings being demolished to make way

The sometimes contrasting needs and desires of the local Primary Care Trust (PCT), clinicians based both in Wimborne and elsewhere and the public all have to be taken into account by the Friends, a charity whose founding goal was to ‘relieve patients and former patients of the hospital and other invalids in the community who are sick, convalescent, disabled, handicapped, infirm or in need of financial assistance and generally to support the charitable work of the hospital.’

Above the completed surgery complex with the metal louvres showing the location of the laminar air-flow plant machinery

The completed surgery complex with the metal louvres showing the location of the laminar air-flow plant machinery

In practice, this rather archaic wording can be split into a variety of activities, but all of them are, to quote the charity’s public aims, to ‘support the hospital’s work in the advancement of health and the relief of those in need by reason of ill-health, a service of care which is available equally to all members of the local community… to respond to the needs of the patients in the hospital, and the community where appropriate, and to supplement those facilities and services which will enhance their health, welfare and comfort.’
Probably the most important tasks for the Friends are to ensure the continuity of current services, to enable additional services to be provided locally, add to the well-being or treatment of patients, or working conditions of staff (and improve care through staff training) and to enhance the hospital or community environment.
Central to the Friends’ success is the hospital itself. A community hospital in the broadest sense of the phrase, its proximity to local people, the friendliness of the staff that comes with being a small, efficiently-run operation, the expertise of visiting surgeons and the absence of all the delays, transport and parking difficulties that come with larger hospitals, make Victoria Hospital a cherished part of Wimborne life. One need only look at the number of requests for donations to the FVH in local newspaper death notices to see that there is genuine and long-lasting affection and thanks from patients, even after their own personal battles with mortality may have been lost.

Below the task of raising money, whether from five-figure bequests or from selling tea and biscuits, never ends for the Friends

The task of raising money, whether from five-figure bequests or from selling tea and biscuits, never ends for the Friends

In day-to-day terms, FVH raise money in a number of different ways. Setting aside legacies and bequests, which have been at five-figure levels in recent years, income is also generated from the charity’s shop – which regularly contributes £20,000 to the charity, its stands at various functions, sales within the hospital and last, but far from least, from the 1300-strong membership. This is a staggering number of members, given the size of Wimborne’s population. As well as individual donations, commercial operations in the hospital and shop, there is support from local businesses too, in the form of collections, special fund-raising events and social functions.
The committee members of the Friends themselves are rather self-effacing about their roles; each credits another with doing the ‘real’ work – after, of course, stating that the primary reason for the success of the operation is ‘the generosity of local people.’ Other than capital contributions to major building schemes, the Friends make many smaller contributions: purchasing specific items to enable the hospital to offer more services, or to buy the less sensational but essential items, like trolleys, ambulances and wheelchair-accessible vehicles, or endoscopes, laparoscopes, X-ray, ultrasound and echo-cardiogram machines that allow more diagnostic as well as therapeutic work to be conducted at the hospital.
As well as equipment, Friends’ contributions are made in the form of staff training awards, known as Phyllis Coombes Award grants, to ensure that the staff, as well as the hospital, are as well equipped as they can be and that the hospital as a whole is functioning at its best, which
of course means that the local people get a much
better service.
Wimborne hospital could be said to have predicted both David Cameron’s Big Society and Andrew Lansley’s proposed big NHS reforms. In addition to the training and equipment purchasing, the Friends’ ongoing work acting as a liaison point with GPs in the area, the locality commissioning manager, the PCT and surgeons from other hospitals, can only become more important as the shape of the health service may or may not be undergoing fundamental change. And as for using charitable organisations to help public sector bodies to achieve their aims, there could be few better examples of this practice than the hospital and its friends.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the League of Friends of Wimborne Hospital, with the hospital’s origins dating back to a bequest of land in 1888. It is fair to say that, although the Friends are a separate charity, within the community they are inseparable from the hospital itself. Whatever the future may hold for the health service, at the moment, the generosity of the Friends’ contribution is probably more secure, or at least more predictable than that of government funding.

• Call 01202 889881 for further information on the Friends of Victoria Hospital, Wimborne, go to www.fvhw.org or visit their shop at 28, High Street Wimborne.

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