It has been two and half years since the Erne Hospital closed its doors for the last time and soon it will be no more.
The hospital which served Fermanagh for 50 years is now being demolished after closing on June 21, 2012.
We asked some former staff, now employed at the South West Acute Hospital their memories of the Erne, how working life has changed and what they miss most about the landmark town centre facility.
Sister Hazel McIlveen – Ward Sister – SWAH
Hazel moved to the Erne Hospital in 1989 to a new unit for the elderly and rehabilitation. Remembering fondly her time in the Erne Hazel recalls the great friendships made at the hospital.
“I remember the great comraderie, meeting colleagues in the canteen and the corridors and the great relationships built up. Now here (in the South West) you don’t see staff as much, it is more ward based.”
The sister recalled the giant strides made at the Erne during her time, including the stroke unit set up, which was very much ahead of its time. Christmas was another time which was very special for those at the Erne Hospital.
“Christmas in the Erne we would have had carol singing at night with our torches covered in red paper. Staff would go round the wards and sing to patients. Christmas itself around all the wards was I time I remember fondly.”
She admitted though moving to the South West Acute Hospital has made her job easier through the advent of technology.
“As regards to ward facilities in the Erne it was not so good, it was very cramped. There were cubicles of six people in a ward with just a screen between them. Staff had no space to work with patients. Before we moved we were apprehensive about the single rooms, but the single rooms are a real godsend. For ill and dying patients it gives them a bit more dignity and privacy for their families.”
It is now two and half years since the Erne Hospital closed its doors. So would Hazel go back?
“I certainly wouldn’t go back. Despite all the challenges we face today, never more so than at the moment, speaking to colleagues we would rather face these in the South West than the Erne. It is better designed and we have the equipment within the rooms. The corridors are long and it is quite spread out, but the facilities in the room mean we can go in and work with patients without affecting others. Any confidential conversations are now kept confidential, rather than hearing everything in the next bed at the Erne.”
She added: “Definitely a lot of good work went on in the Erne, there were a lot of developments, but the actual facilities in here are so much better. What remains constant is the staff committment and hard work. They are committed to providing the best health care and there still remains that strong teamwork.”
Paul Rafferty – Head of Allied Health Professionals SWAH
Paul started work as a physiotherapist in the Erne Hospital back in September 1991. Originally from north Antrim, such was the impact of the staff and working evironment at the Erne he bought a house in the county by Christmas and has lived in Fermanagh since. He recalled the “brilliant experience” of working in the Erne.
“Because it was a small acute hospital you had a good variety of people you were dealing with. There were lots of different types of conditions you were tasked whereas maybe in a bigger hospital you may have just worked in one area.”
“Working in a small hospital meant you were very much engaging a lot more with people and bumping into people a lot more in the hospital. Here in the South West because of the size of the building it can be a few weeks before you see someone. In the old Erne you were bumping into people on a regular basis.”
While he misses the camraderie of the Erne he and his staff would not go back.
“It is a beautiful state-of-art building, built for work in the 21st century. All my staff love the environment and working here, I don’t think anyone would go back to the Erne. This building is unbelievable, the whole ambience and atmosphere is quite relaxing. Looking out at the lake for example is helpful for patients in their rehabilitation and the evidence would show staff are happier. If you have staff who are extremely happy in their jobs that rubs off on their patients.”
One thing people would say about SWAH is that it’s so big you never see a patient, but for me that’s very positive. I was a patient for five hours and had to have a procedure done which involves a camera going down your stomach. I was wheeled in a bed through the old Erne, with staff all waving at me and all members of the public looking at me. It wasn’t nice being wheeled in an old type hospital, being wheeled past the public. The whole dignity of the patient was taken away and I was only going for a simple procedure.”
Paul will miss the building when it is demolished and stressed his hope that the site is put to good use.
“I wouldn’t want to see this prime site get wasted. I hope someone between the police, council, South West College whoever, someone takes up this hub. The last thing you want is something like Desmonds factory. That would be quite sad and if it went on for another 10 or 20 years would bring the whole town down.”
Reflecting on his 21 years spent at the Erne hospital Paul added: “What was really, really lovely was whenever I used to look out at Christmas time on the Queen Elizabeth Road with all the Christmas trees and lights and see the whole town lit up. You would miss that, it was beautiful.”
Anne Keenan – Pharmacy Manager – South West Acute Hospital
Anne started work in the Erne Hospital on July 1, 1997 as a pharmacist. Starting off as one of just six staff she has seen numbers grow to 40 now at the South West Acute Hospital. She recalled her time at the Erne.
“It was brilliant and really was a unique place to work in. I worked in four other hospitals, mostly in the Belfast area and it was unique. The working relationships you had across the disciplines, not just pharmacy was amazing. It was such an easy place to engage with people to get decisions made for better patient outcomes.
“The canteen was a great place, whenever you were able to get time to go there. As it was quite small everyone got chatting and a lot of decisions were made over coffee. The canteen was definitely the hub of the hospital.”
She continued: “I do miss the Erne, but I wouldn’t be able to go back and work in it because of the facilities. One of the things that will always stick with me was the uniqueness of the place. When I started on July 1 I hadn’t changed my married name and was told the Western Trust they only addressed you by your married name. So I went from Anne Fitzpatrick to Anne Keenan on the first day. Most of the memories I have are the relationships we had with staff, who have now left. That’s what you miss the most, the brashness of staff. Everyone knew everyone and went to the ends of the earth to find out, but it was lovely.”
In moving to the South West Anne has seen her own department ‘transformed’.
“In the Erne we had a few computers, but there was a typewriter as back up. Now we have a pharmacy robot in the dispensary and a pneumatic tube sends medicines and prescriptions to wards. There is also a state-of-the-art Aseptic dispensary which is sitting there for localised chemotherapy provision.”
She continued: “Initially when we came across if you asked would you go back a lot would have said ‘yea’, but now no one would go back. I went back six months later and it was such a shock to think we all worked there.”
When the old Erne is demolished it will not just be work memories, but family memories that will remain at the forefront of Anne’s thoughts.
“It will be sad when it is demolished. Sad from a staff point of view, also from my own experiences as a mother. You remember going up and where you parked your car when you went in to have your babies. You definitely get a bit of sinking feeling if you stop outside it now. There is a real attachment and everyone is really proud of what we achieved there.”
Emmet Tierney – Head Porter – SWAH
Emmet Tierney started work as a porter in the Erne Hospital on July 5, 1997, before becoming Head Porter in 2008. He enjoyed his time in the Erne, describing the staff as a “close-knit” group of people. He spent 15 years working in the Erne and reflected upon some of the more memorable moments.
“To be honest there’s quite a few, good moments and bad. The Omagh bomb for one, I worked through it when people were transfered here. It was a busy time, I was only a young lad at that time and it was a real eye-opener and a bit of a shock to the system to see something like that happen.
“There were loads of good times though and I met loads of great people, who remain friends to this day.”
In 17 years Emmet’s role has changed dramatically with a massive increase in staff and responsibilities at the South West Acute Hospital.
“My role has changed, there is a lot of extra work, we have taken on extra duties like security and car parking and it is a lot busier. This new building is laid out better for us, it’s easier for porters to work here. The move was welcomed by us.”
While staff were closer-knit at the Erne Hospital Emmet believes the move was required.
“The building wasn’t fit for purpose, it was time for a change and was very hard for us to do our job in it. If you were moving patients in the corridor around the old place you had to go through the whole hospital and past everybody. It wasn’t really private whereas here we have our own corridors. It makes a massive difference for patient comfort and gives the patient more dignity. It’s also easier with technology in the South West. Here we use wifi to get all our jobs.”
Will he miss the Erne when the famous red building is demolished from the town centre site?
“To be honest with you no! I prefer it here, it’s a better building, it’s worlds apart from the Erne. You miss the community spirit, but we have tried to continue that on. Maybe it’s not as widespread, but back then you would have known the nurses a lot better so it’s probably only our own group now. We all try to stick together and create a good team spirit and have a couple of pints together when we can.”
He continued: I was born there myself and worked there since I was 23. I have spent a lot of my life there. It’s a big part of my life and I have fond memories.
“There were good times and I met a lot of great people and made a lot of friendships. There are people who have moved on to other jobs and I’m still friendly with them. Some of the older boys Frank Duffy, Benny Cassidy took me under their wing and I’m still friendly with them. Now it’s my turn to do that.”
History of the Erne:
The decision to build the Erne Hospital was taken in 1954 by the Hospitals Authority in Consultation with Fermanagh Hospital Committee and the Ministry of Health and Local Government.
It was agreed that the site would occupy 3.3 acres and overlook an inlet of Lough Erne with the buildings covering 125,269 square foot.
•Work began on the site on the 29th July 1959
• Kitchens and mortuary opened on 27th June 1961
• Nurses’ home occupied in November 1961
• Maternity Department was completed 3rd April 1962
• The remaining hospital was occupied by 1964
• The Erne opened with 166 beds and 21 cots, with accommodation for 99 staff.
•The total cost of the build including the £80,000 spent on furniture and equipment was approximately £813,000.
•The following building materials were used in construction; 2,200,000 bricks, 3,900 tons of cement, 7,600 tons of sand, 950 doors, 700 windows, five miles of scaffolding.
Each patient suite was furnished with a dressing table/writing desk, bedside cabinet, bookshelf and linen box.
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