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Wincanton Community Hospital - Formerly Verrington Hospital

Thursday 16 September 2010
By John Baxter

For a hundred years there has been a hospital here in Wincanton at the end of Dancing Lane. It has been called Verrington Hospital. As the Health Service changed it could easily have been lost, but for the tenacity and dedication of local people. It was friends, medical staff and patients, not regional planners, who saved it. This was because they recognised that its loss would have a drastic impact on the health not only of the people of Wincanton, but on all those from the surrounding areas now able to use it. If it was not here patients would have to travel a long way or have to do without those services and treatments that make all the difference, particularly if one has to cope with long term and persistent conditions.

Hospital entrance

Visiting today is to come to a beautifully refurbished hospital, bright, open and well resourced.


There are 34 inpatient beds and all the facilities needed. Every day GPs from the Wincanton practice visit and a staff of ninety full-timers and part-timers work here. These are made up of doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, clerks, secretaries, domestics, cooks, cleaners and maintenance men and in overall day to day charge is the Matron, Claire Andrews.

Claire Andrews, MatronMeet Matron Claire Andrews

For me meeting Claire and Hospital Secretary Marilyn Hawkins was quite an experience. I was taken to their meetings room, plied with coffee and given a lively description by both of them of what the hospital is all about and who it serves. The bright red uniform suits Claire Andrews who is outgoing, friendly, and like Marilyn Hawkins, extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

She has only been Matron for six weeks, but she knows the place well for she first came to work here as a staff nurse in 1991, before becoming a sister. She then spent nine years running a stroke unit based at Shepton Mallet. So Wincanton is a hospital she already familiar with. Her husband is Wincanton born and they live in Dancing Lane so she sees coming here as coming home.

Secretary and Hospital Historian

Marilyn Hawkins, Hospital Secretary and HistorianHospital Secretary Marilyn Hawkins is just as enthusiastic. She has worked here for twenty-eight years and in her free time has been researching records and documents relating to the hospital's past. As a result she has just completed a book telling the story of Verrington from its earliest days as a rather grim isolation hospital right through to its present transformation. She showed me her manuscript which she has illustrated with a fascinating collection of photographs. She hopes to have it published in this centenary year.

Celia Hamblin, Ward ClerkAfter the two of them had given me a very full introduction and overview I was introduced to Celia Hamblin. Celia is a Ward Clerk responsible for the administration and record keeping so vital for patient care on one of the women's wards. That however is only half her job, so most days Celia changes out of her smart office outfit into the uniform of a Health Care Assistant and spends the other half of her time working on the ward providing such personal care as bathing patients, helping them with their clothes and generally seeing to their non-medical needs.

Outside patio area, perfect for relaxing on a sunny dayThis is quite an unusual combination of skills and I learnt she has been doing it for ten years. When I asked her which side of her job she preferred she said that she enjoys both equally and finds meeting, talking to and helping patients endlessly fascinating. "People are so varied and live such different and interesting lives," she said.

We then set off on a full tour of the whole hospital and I could not have had a better guide for Celia seemed to know every nook and cranny as well as every person we met.

Here I looked through a window and saw this patio, just the place to come and relax on a sunny day.

So what is going on at the hospital?

Angela Wilson, Stroke Co-ordinatorStroke Co-ordinator Angela Winson has a key role.

Strokes and heart attacks are the biggest killers and of course both are initially treated as emergencies at general hospitals like Yeovil. (Anyone who suspects they or their nearest are suffering from one should immediately dial 999 for the ambulance paramedics are now trained and prepared for fast action with thrombolising drugs. These can make a huge difference to survival and reduce the damage otherwise done to heart or brain, but a speedy response is essential.)

After that stroke victims in particular need on average a month to six weeks in hospital where they can have physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy until their condition is stabilised and they can go home. Stroke patientsAgain it is amazing how much can be done and how well stroke victims can progress - given the right care and support.

Recovering well

I met 85 year old Mr Desmond Lucas who was still working when he had his stroke. It was also very encouraging to hear that he had a triple by-pass after a heart attack when he was sixty and has lived an extremely busy and active life since then.

Here we see stroke patient Mr Anthony Clarke who is bravely battling to recover speech and mobility being helped to exercise by specialist stroke physiotherapist Jo Moore and rehab assistant Lorraine Blyth.

Stroke patient Mr. Anthony Clarke

The Importance of Cleanliness

One of the fears people have about going to hospital these days is picking up an infection like MRSA or C. difficiel. Systematic cleanliness is vital to combat these and this is something Wincanton Hospital takes very seriously. Here you see domestic Tracy Bond on her rounds systematically cleaning all surfaces, hand basins and toilets and a ward getting one of its regular deep cleans while the patients are in the day room.

Tracy Bond systematically cleans all surfacesDeep clean time

Patients aren't confined to their beds or hospital clothesPatients are not confined to bed or expected to wear hospital clothes more than is necessary and here we see stroke patient Mr Clifford who was taking advantage of the sun chatting to Matron Claire Andrews.

All the Wincanton GPs are regular visitors, just like Dr. Marc FellowsAll the Wincanton GPs are regular visitors to the hospital and here we see Dr Marc Fellows updating his records after a consultation.

Where ever I went the atmosphere seemed efficient, caring and friendly. This elderly lady (below), Edna Swallow, lives on her own and has been in hospital for some time. Her interest in those around her and her good humour is much appreciated by all on her ward.

Edna Swallow has been in hospital for some timeThis gentleman brought flowers for the staff

This gentleman (above, right) had been visiting a relative and was so impressed by the kindness and helpfulness of the staff that he had brought in bunches of flowers for all of them.

Patients made a collage about healthy eating
A super collage proudly displayed in the day room made by patients.

HCAs prepare dinner

Domestic Claire Stephenson serves up dinnerDinner Time

Meal times in hospitals can be less than exciting, but here the midday meals I saw being dished up by Health Care Assistants Sonia Franklin and Paula Rolfe looked really tasty, as did this selection being served by Domestic Claire Stephenson.

Patients choose what they want from a menu they are given the day before.

HCA Valerie Burns assists patients at bath time

Time for a Bath?

Health Care Assistant Valerie Burns showed me the bathroom and the hoist used to lower patients into the bath. She told me she found assisting people in this way was a pleasure and a privilege for not only was it something patients really enjoyed and looked forward to, but that working with them one to one in an unhurried way meant you could talk and listen to their stories and really get to know them.

Mobility equipment enables the frail to move around

I was fascinated to see this room full of Mobility gear. Modern aids like these which enable those who are very frail to be moved and to start moving themselves are enormously helpful to both patients and staff.

Ward Sister Wendy Russel dispenses medicines

The Drug Round

Ward Sister Wendy Russell carries out one of her most important duties – dispensing medicines - and one which always requires careful focus on the task in hand, hence her tabard reads "Do not Disturb!"

Claire Wittan, Emergency Clinical Nurse PractitionerThese pictures so far have shown that most of the work that goes on at Wincanton Hospital is concerned with convalescence and rehabilitation, but that is far from everything. There is a whole range of out-patient services. These are listed as an audiologist, a dietician, General Medicine, General Surgery, Geriatric Medicine, Gynaecology, Orthopaedics, Physiotherapy, Paediatrics and Paediatric Dietician, and Respiratory Nurse. Then there are nurse led clinics for leg ulcers and continence.

Finally here you see Clare Wittan who is one of a team of Emergency Clinical Nurse Practitioners who are on hand Monday to Friday from nine to five. She deals with minor injuries such as falls and accidents in the home, so when next you hit your finger with a hammer or like me fall flat on a snowy pavement - you will know where to come.


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