When Bob Yearby arrived in Bury St Edmunds some 46 years ago to build an NHS hospital, he had no idea that one day heâd return there to receive care himself.
Bob, 87, was the site architect for the original build of West Suffolk Hospital back in 1972. And today, on the 70th birthday of the NHS, heâs here at the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust as a patient.
âI spent around two years on the job, and I was commuting in from London on the train at the time,â says Bob. âThough now Iâm a local man as I live in Sudbury, so Iâm under the care of one of the hospitals I helped to build!â
As the site architect, it was Bobâs responsibility to make sure everything from clearing land and installing water, sewage, electric and gas systems were done properly.
âIt was a big operation,â he says. âIn those days it was close to Â£2.5m to build this site, which was a heck of a lot of money back then. In those days you were doing hospitals for around half a million, so this was a state-of-the-art hospital.â
The hospital was part of the Governmentâs âbest buyâ system, which Bob says was essentially a blueprint for a new hospital build: âThe template was like a cross, and you just put the wards in like a jigsaw. There were seven or eight hospitals around here that were all of the same design concept. They had the same number of wards, same number of beds â everything. The only modification people really made in the past was the front entrance.
âThe main change that was made here was the front car park. Originally that should have been the nurses quarters, and the idea was that we would put the nurses quarters there and have a tunnel coming through into the hospital. The tunnel was for security at night when the staff were going to and from the hospital. But those who know better than me decided theyâd change it and put the car park at the front, so we changed it!
âI really did feel so great when it was done. Itâs like all jobs â youâre very proud when itâs finished. But, youâve got to move up and move on to the next job.â
Now, Bob canât believe how much the site has expanded. âItâs changed a tremendous amount,â he says. âNow the build has gone out over the back, down the sides, thereâs labs and a new childrenâs area. There was nothing like that when we first built it. But all the roof panels are still there, and the ceilings, exactly as I remember them going in. A big truck came in with the ceiling tiles, the beds and everything in between â all of it.â
And itâs Bobâs belief that in the years to come, hospitals are going to change even more: âIn another 10 year, 20 years, 30 years, I think hospitals are going to look totally different again.
âWhat doesnât change though is the people in the hospital. Whenever I was working on hospital builds and I wanted information or knowledge I always went to staff and said âwhat do you think of this?â And you would always get the best answers. All you have to do is listen and theyâll tell you whatâs right and whatâs wrong.â
As the NHS celebrates 70 years of care today, Bob is back at the West Suffolk Hospital as he prepares for an operation. He says: âIt feels very weird coming back now. But itâs a wonderful hospital, I think the people and the staff here are just absolutely terrific. I used the hospital about 12 years ago for an operation and now Iâm back for another one.
âIâve always had excellent care here. Even in the early days when we were doing construction work the cafeteria and coffee shops were good and looked after us!â
And Bobâs thoughtâs on the NHS and why it matters? âWell, the NHS is just a lifesaver all round isnât it? I mean, a lot of people wouldnât be alive today if it wasnât for the NHS. I can remember my mum going to the doctors and having to pay half a crown, but not now.
âEvery person makes a difference here though. It doesnât matter if youâre a surgeon or if you clean the wards â one canât do without the other. If the cleaner doesnât do their job properly the surgeon is wasting their time. Itâs one big team.â
The National Health Service turned 70 today (5 July) 2018. The perfect opportunity to celebrate the achievements of one of the nationâs most loved institutions, to appreciate the vital role the service plays in our lives, and to recognise and thank the extraordinary NHS staff â the everyday heroes â who are there to guide, support and care for people, day in, day out.