50 years of Airedale Hospital

By Dave Baldwin

It was 50 years ago that a very youthful Prince of Wales officially opened Airedale Hospital. The young Charles, then 22, spent so long doing the ward rounds and chatting with staff and patients that his visit overran. His wife Diana, the Princess of Wales, was equally enthusiastic when she visited in 1989 to launch the newly extended child development centre. Proud memories for a proud institution.

In its first year of operation, the Steeton-based hospital admitted 10,000 patients, treated 25,000 accident cases, saw 40,000 outpatients and delivered 1,500 babies. Half a century on, Airedale admitted 26,000 patients, treated 70,000 emergency department cases, saw 155,000 outpatients and delivered 2,000 babies. That shows you just how much the health service and our population has changed over the decades.

Airedale is one of the Bradford district’s biggest employers with 2,500 staff and 350 volunteers. It occupies a special place in our daily lives, supporting not only our health and wellbeing in times of need but also our wider economy with an annual operating budget of £185m.

In a King’s Fund report on the economic influence of the NHS at a local level, senior policy analyst David Maguire said: “The NHS is often talked about as the biggest employer in England, but thinking at this scale can overlook the local importance of the NHS in areas with higher levels of deprivation. In these areas the NHS is a key employer, providing good terms and conditions and opportunities for high-quality, professional work, and contributing to the local economy by investing in the region and in training and education for staff.”

Airedale is running a course with Keighley College for apprentice healthcare support workers. Launched in 2017, the programme is creating meaningful employment opportunities for young people at the hospital. To date, three cohorts of students have completed the 12-month programme and are working in clinical areas.

Sound financial management is at the heart of every successful organisation. Last year the trust achieved a surplus and had healthy cash reserves at the bank, which no doubt helped it step up and play an important wider role when the pandemic hit Yorkshire.

Airedale supplied facilities management services to NHS Nightingale Yorkshire and the Humber hospital at Harrogate via its wholly-owned subsidiary AGH Solutions. AGHS is highly regarded for its procurement expertise and ensured the trust had sufficient personal protective equipment in the first wave of the coronavirus.

The hospital has created a significant number of new ancillary jobs for local people, many of whom have seen their jobs disappear in the service sectors. Airedale needs people to feed its teams, get food to patients, work with cleaners and help staff where they need it most. These all add up and Airedale can be proud of its contribution to date in the national effort to combat this terrible virus.

Surprisingly perhaps for a 50-year-old (!) the institution is at the forefront of technology and innovation. Airedale consultants have worked with patients to pioneer digital health services to support independent living in the community under the watchful eye of clinicians. Last year, the hospital had 26,000 telemedicine contacts, illustrating the scale of its operations in this exciting emerging field.

Technologies tried and tested at Airedale have the potential to address some of the biggest challenges facing our NHS. The hospital’s digital care hub provides round-the-clock support to 500 care homes, more than 2,000 end-of-life patients, 30 prisons and thousands of patients living with long-term conditions in their own homes. This approach to healthcare is the future and Airedale is at the cutting edge.

Brendan Brown, chief executive at Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, said: “As a small district general hospital and community trust, we have always punched above our weight.  We are agile, able to change swiftly and adjust to new demands on our services. This has never more shown itself to be true than in recent months.

“We are hugely appreciative of the support and trust we receive from local people and I hope that we honour that trust in the compassionate care we provide. I am too enormously proud of our staff and volunteers who continue to go above and beyond, never more so than now as we face these unprecedented challenges together.”

All that remains for me to write is to wish Airedale a very happy birthday… and many happy returns.

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