Northumberland Healthcare Project Update

The Northumberland Healthcare study outlined in the PROJECTS page of the website is beginning to bear fruits with work underway in various areas.

Project volunteers are researching maternity care in Northumberland with particular focus on Castle Hills Maternity Home, Berwick, and Mona Taylor Maternity Home, Stannington. They are also researching in less detail some of the other Maternity Homes in the county. This note provides a brief history of maternity provision at Beulah House, Bondicar Terrace, Blyth, Northumberland.

Beulah House appears to have started life as a private residence but had several uses over the next fifteen years. A photograph in The Blyth News of 28 March 1940 is captioned ‘Mothers have their babies weighed and examined at Blyth’s new Health Centre which had been opened by the Town Council at Beulah House’. Later in 1940 it was described as a municipal clinic. A report in The Blyth News of 17 June 1946 records that the Town Council was proposing that Beulah House becomes a maternity home with six beds.

Records held at Northumberland Archives have revealed more about the history of Beulah House. The minutes of the Blyth Hospitals’ House Committee, 1962-1974, give details of various statistics such as admissions.

The number of patients admitted during December 1961 was 64 and the daily average bed occupancy was 12.8.

Nursing staff in October 1962 numbered six Midwives and four part-time Midwives, two State Enrolled Nurses and one part-time Nursing Auxiliary. In March 1963 there were seven Midwives and four part-time Midwives and two State Enrolled Nurses.

In the Minutes for the meeting on Monday 14 December 1964, costing returns for the year ended March 1964 are outlined. There was a slight increase in the cost per patient per week, but this was only 9/2d (46p) above the regional average, which was extremely satisfactory for a hospital with only 13 beds and a separate Nurses’ Home to maintain.

By 1968 however, the future of the unit was under review with the interesting observations that the maternity hospital was not an economic proposition at present but it was thought bed occupancy would rise as the population increased and the temporary fall in the birth rate due to the Pill and other reasons became modified.”

The future of the hospital was discussed at almost every meeting in 1971 and 1972 and the minutes of the meeting on 14 February 1972 contain the following:

‘Although no decision had been taken as to the future of the hospital, this was under review due to the low occupancy rate and consequent high cost per patient, and the Consultant Obstetricians were of the opinion that this provided the Regional Hospital Board with adequate grounds for the hospital’s closure.”

Further lengthy and detailed discussions took place about future policy and provision of services in Blyth, including a smaller general, community hospital but the final blow came on 8 October 1973 when the date for closure was given as 1 November 1973. All staff had been or would be offered alternative employment at other hospitals within the Group. The Principal Nursing Officer’s intention was to notify former staff of any future vacancies which may become available at Thomas Knight Memorial Hospital, Blyth. It was reported that Beulah Maternity Hospital had closed on 31 October 1973. All staff had either accepted alternative employment or resigned voluntarily.

The start of a trend towards centralisation that has continued to this day, perhaps to the detriment to local communities with hospitals often far removed from patients’ homes.

Keep a lookout on the Archive Services websites for updates on many other interesting projects being carried out by the Archive Service.