End of an era as Haslar closes

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Today marks the end of an era. For 256 years Royal Hospital Haslar has provided care and treatment to injured servicemen from every modern major conflict and in latter years civilians.

But today its doors will close as the last outpatients treated at the hospital move to Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham.

The hospital has a rich history since planning permission for it was first granted in 1745 by King George II.

It took 16 years to build and, while the hospital wasn't actually completed until 1762, some nine years earlier patients were already bedding down in the builders' living quarters, waiting for the new hospital to open.

With the building only half completed, the need for more space to care for sick sailors in the area became desperate and patients were admitted into the completed areas of the hospital from October 1753.

Since then sick and injured servicemen from Trafalgar, Corunna and Waterloo, and Army casualties from the Crimean and two World Wars as well as from the Falklands conflict, have been cared for at Haslar. But today the building is an empty shell of the bustling military hospital it once was.

It has been gutted of most of its equipment as services have been transferred to the new 'superhospital' eight miles away.

The 300 military doctors and nurses who work on the site are being relocated.

This day has been looming large for the past 11 years, since the Save Haslar Task Force formed in December 1998 to fight its closure.

Massive protests have been held, the government has been petitioned and the plight to save the hospital has been argued over in the Commons.

Spokesman for the task force Councillor Peter Edgar, pictured, said: 'It's been a long hard battle, but the people of Gosport have sustained their support for keeping Haslar open all along the way and that's the proudest thing for me.

'I first visited Haslar when I was eight to sing in a choir. It holds a special place in my heart.

'The doctors and nurses there have always had plenty of time to speak to the patients and the general atmosphere of the place has been so good over the years – it's become completely integrated into the lives of the people. This is a sad day for Gosport and everyone who has ever been treated at Haslar.'

Even in recent years with impending closure looming large, the staff at Haslar have worked tirelessly to keep the hospital in top condition.

Just two years ago Haslar beat hundreds of other hospitals across the country to scoop the title of the second cleanest in England.

It was the third time in a row the hospital had entered the awards, and every time it made the final shortlist even talking the first place spot on one occasion.

But despite the pride of the staff, the work of the task force and the overwhelming public support for the hospital, the day of closure has hung over Haslar for more than decade. On March 31, 2007, medical control of the hospital was passed to Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust.

The MoD still owned the site after the handover, but struck a deal whereby the NHS got to use the site and the military medical staff gained invaluable experience working at the hospital.

It was made clear that when the rebuilding of the new QA was finished the site would be 'surplus to requirements'.

Since 2007 there have been numerous marches to safeguard the much-loved hospital in which thousands of people have paraded proudly through Gosport.

There have also been petitions launched on the 10 Downing Street website and the Task Force has liaised closely with parties interested in taking over the site for medical uses.

But despite these efforts, the MoD didn't back down and the hospital, which was the biggest hospital in Europe when completed, was still earmarked for closure.

MoD spokesman Paul Leat said: 'Since 1753 the Royal Hospital Haslar has played a very important part in the history of military medicine. It has provided care for thousands of patients, both military and civilian. It has some splendid buildings which are a part of our heritage and which will of course be preserved.

'We've been planning to close Haslar for several years, once the Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust was able to relocate its clinical activities from the site.

'PHT is now bringing excellent new facilities into use at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham. Our military doctors and nurses will also benefit from these new facilities.'

Last Saturday, with the closure just six days away, staff threw a party in the grounds of the hospital.

A total of 800 staff, friends and family attended the emotional occasion on which a military band blasted out to music to mark the end of the hospital.

Cllr Edgar said it was a sad day and the air was filled with 'the most nostalgic feeling' he had experienced ever.

With the staff moving out and no more patients to be treated at the hospital, its future is uncertain.

TIMELINE

In 1753 the service personnel were treated for the first time in completed sections of the building.

However, the construction of the hospital didn't finish until 1762, but as patients were already being treated, there was no official opening date.

In the first decades or so of the 1800s – the years of Trafalgar, Corunna and Waterloo – many of Haslar's patients who died were laid to rest in the grounds.

During the First World War the hospital was full, and during Second World War the threat of air raids meant Haslar primarily treated emergencies who were then transferred to inland hospitals once the patient was out of immediate danger. In 1941, two bombs hit the hospital.

In 1954 the word Naval was formally included in the title of the hospital, becoming Royal Naval Hospital Haslar. It was removed in 1966 when it became a tri-service hospital for Navy, Army and RAF, their families and the local population in Gosport area.

In 1998 the Ministry of Defence first announced plans for an overhaul of defence medicine, apparently spelling the end of Haslar – although the hospital's closure was not expected for over a decade.

In 1999, 22,000 people marched past the hospital gates in a bid to save it – the largest march in Gosport's history.

In 2001, a group of explorers unveiled a Save Haslar Hospital banner at the top of Mount Everest.

The Save Haslar Task Force and the people of Gosport succeeded in postponing the hospital's closure – originally intended for 2001.

In April 2004, Fareham and Gosport Primary Care Trust was handed a 25,000-signature petition from residents against the closure.

In February 2005, Fareham and Gosport PCT became the first in the country to receive a vote of no confidence, from Gosport Borough Council.

In 2005, Gosport council received 16,000 replies to a consultation on the future of hospital provision – all but 200 said they'd prefer Haslar to Gosport War Memorial Hospital.

On March 31, 2007, medical control of the hospital was passed to Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust.

In November 2007 the hospital was named the second cleanest in the country, beating hundreds of other hospitals in the prestigious Golden Service Awards.

In January last year, 13,000 people signed a petition to save the hospital.

In April last year, during a pre-election visit to Gosport, Tory leader David Cameron promised to save Royal Hospital Haslar if his party was voted to power in the near future.

A new group fighting to save Haslar was launched on June 4 last year.

On May 10 this year a march took place in a last-ditch bid to save Haslar.