THERE was a time, going back to the old days, when there were three NHS hospitals in Worcester. Technically they were all branches of Worcester Royal Infirmary, but few people outside of the bureaucrats called them that.

There was the Royal Infirmary itself in Castle Street, and then Ronkswood Hospital and Newtown Hospital along Newtown Road.

Today they are all more or less merged into the rambling complex of Worcestershire Royal Hospital, which stands near where Newtown Hospital used to be.

The Royal Infirmary itself is now a campus of the University of Worcester, while of Ronkswood Hospital there is no trace. Which is a shame. Because it was the place where a large number of Worcester babies were born. The old site at the top of the hill on the left as you go up Newtown Road is covered by housing.

Ronkswood Hospital always had a supressed air of military efficiency about it. For a start it was all one level and you marched along long corridors with the wards and departments lying off. This was hardly surprising since it began life as a military hospital.

The hospital was built on part of the original Tolladine Golf Course at the beginning of the Second World War under the Emergency Medical Services, as a temporary hutted hospital, later to be used by the Ministry of Pensions as a Pensions Hospital.

It had 600 beds in 14 wards, some wards having as many as 40 beds. It was opened in 1941 with its own staff, including medical, surgical and nursing, and during the war treated service casualties, civilian casualties from the Birmingham air raids and other cases.

It's intended use largely disappeared after the war, but it still had a full medical, surgical and nursing staff, although bed numbers were reduced to 450 by 1951.

It then came under the National Health Service with the aim of reducing the long list of patients waiting for treatment in Birmingham. This proposal was impractical due to the distances patients and their families needed to travel to Worcester, so in 1952 it was transferred to the South Worcestershire Group and became part of Worcester Royal Infirmary and greatly extended.

In September 1952 a large maternity department of 49 beds utilising four of the existing wards and the addition of an ante-natal clinic and classroom was opened at the hospital by Dame Hilda Lloyd. This department catered for both normal and abnormal midwifery and later for general practitioner midwifery in a separate unit. It became a regular port of call for this newspaper’s photographers every December 26 to catch shots of Christmas Day babies.

In 1968 Ronkswood Hospital enjoyed a flashback its military past when a portable operating theatre, originally designed for use by the Forces, was employed while its own two theatres were being redecorated.

The Octatent – one of only four in the UK – comprised a reinforced plastic canopy erected over a tubular steel frame. A specially designed filtration unit provided twenty compete air changes inside the canopy each hour with the interior maintained at a permanent pressure. 

The whole sterilised airtight unit consisted of an operating theatre and outer room, joined by a sliding concertina-type door. It remained in use for around six weeks.

When the acute surgical and medical facilities were transferred from WRI to Ronkswood, it was decided the emergency services should be nearer to those beds and so in October 1992  the entire A&E Department was closed down at Castle Street and transferred to new accommodation at Ronkswood Hospital to await the arrival of the new district general hospital in Worcester ten years later.

Worcestershire Royal Hospital, costing £85m, duly opened its doors in March 2002. Bigger and better?