Paget at 40: Former surgeon recalls hospital opening

Civic Society chairman Hugh Sturzaker would like to see trees re-planted along South Quay Picture:

Former consultant surgeon Hugh Sturzaker - Credit: James Bass

The James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its official opening. Hugh Sturzaker is a former consultant surgeon and previous lead governor at the hospital.

Here he recalls its official opening, how it used to be run and its many accomplishments:

In 1975, David Owen, Minister of Health, said that Great Yarmouth and Waveney shared with Weston-Super-Mare the honour of having the worst health provision in the country.

I first saw the new District General Hospital rising from the ground in early 1979 and over the years was pleased to see it become a highly effective hospital delivering high quality care and introducing many innovations.

Picture of: Hugh Sturzaker, ex surgeon and author of 25 years annivesary book of James Paget Hospita

Hugh Sturzaker seen in 2007 with his book on the history of the hospital - Credit: Archant

The official opening of the hospital was on Wednesday, July 21 1982 and was carried out by Professor Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, OM, FRS, one of the most distinguished scientists of the time who had discovered the structure of Penicillin, Vitamin B12 and insulin.

This should have been a glorious day but the weather was dull, there was a national strike and the mayor refused to cross the picket line.

Money was tight and the Health Authority decided that not more than £250 should be spent on the opening.

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I could see no evidence of any spending and Dr. Back, paediatrician, brought in a kettle to make our distinguished visitor a cup of tea.

When I started some patients were waiting to be seen in outpatients for six to eight years and there was a very long waiting time for operations.

I took control of this by reviewing all GP referral letters and setting a time in which they would be seen.

I also gave patients a date for their operation when they were seen in the clinic.

It meant that clinics over-ran and occasionally patients complained they missed the last bus home.

However, it did mean the waiting times for clinics and operations were brought under control.

When I arrived patients were staying in hospital for 10-14 days after hernia repair operations so there was shock when I sent patients home the next day or the same day.

Operations for cataract involved the patient staying in hospital for a week and the operation was usually done under a general anaesthetic. Now they spend a few hours in hospital after the operation is done under local anaesthetic.

A civic service was held at Yarmouth Minster to celebrate Sir James Paget's Bicentenary.
Hugh Sturza

A civic service was held at Yarmouth Minster to celebrate Sir James Paget's Bicentenary. Hugh Sturzaker with Sir Julian Paget (92) and Henry Paget. - Credit: Nick Butcher

Laparoscopic surgery has resulted in shorter hospital stays and much better cosmetic results.

Interventional radiology has played a big part in enabling procedures to be done by catheters passed up arteries and veins rather than subjecting patients to complex open operations. It has revolutionised the management of patients with angina and heart attacks.

In the 1970s and 1980s the consultant oversaw the management of his/her patients from deciding on the priority of when the patient should be seen and when the operation should take place. The consultant also had a number of beds allocated to him/her and if another consultant wanted to borrow a bed he/she would need to ask the relevant consultant.

With the planned opening of the hospital there was an expansion in the number of consultants.

Most were young and enthusiastic and we got on well with each other and with management.

In the early days the purse strings were held in Cambridge and the money allocated to health districts decreased dramatically the further away you were from Cambridge. Fortunately the Health Department changed its policy and distributed money according to work done. However, there was never enough money and frequently this resulted in bed closures.

The provision of CT and MRI scans has revolutionised medicine.

Retired consultant surgeon Hugh Sturzaker described being made an MBE as an honour for Yarmouth as m

Retired consultant surgeon Hugh Sturzaker described being made an MBE as an honour for Yarmouth as much as for himself. - Credit: James Bass

In the early 1980s Addenbrooke’s and Ipswich hospitals had the only CT scanners in East Anglia.

We became the third after an appeal was launched for £370,000 which was expected to raise the money over two years yet raised £500,000 in six months - a British record.

Subsequent public appeals have produced a renal unit, the Sandra Chapman Unit, Endoscopy equipment and unit, the Breast Care Unit, a further scanner appeal to provide a new CT Scanner and an MRI scanner, a Mammography Screening van, ITU Appeal for equipment for the new unit and Palliative Care East Appeal which built the Louise Hamilton Centre.

Louise Hamilton Centre at the James Paget University Hospital.Picture: James Bass

Louise Hamilton Centre at the James Paget University Hospital.Picture: James Bass - Credit: James Bass

Such appeals result in a great deal of work by the organisers and relies on the generosity of the local population.

However, it brings the community together who are so proud of “their hospital” and enables us to have facilities that other hospitals do not have.

Another source of funds was the Friends shop which was in the foyer of the hospital and raised thousands of pounds for good causes over the years. It was a sad day when it was closed down.


League of Friends volunteers Lisa Taber and Linda Mallett with a petition to stop the closeure of th

A flashback to the League of Friends shop at the hospital - Credit: Nick Butcher

Achievements and innovations

These have been many.

We were the first hospital in East Anglia to provide a stoma care service and stoma care nurse and she gave advice to all hospitals in the region for many years.

We were the first health district in the region to provide mammograms on the NHS through the North Sea Medical Centre and funded through public donations.

We were one of the few hospitals to pioneer patient controlled analgesia pumps.

The audiology department was one of only a few centres to assess digital hearing aids. The Critical Care Score was developed here and was based on combining a number of observations and warned of a patient’s deterioration.

Jerome Pereira was the first breast surgeon in East Anglia to offer breast reconstruction at the time of mastectomy and went on to become the national lead for auditing breast surgery results. With the University of East Anglia he has pioneered e-learning and people all over the world are benefitting from this.

Charter marks were awarded by the government to reward excellent service and were obtained by the Tracheostomy Support Service, the Breast Nursing Service, the children’s ward, the Day Case Eye Service and the Sandra Chapman Centre.