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West Suffolk Hospital architect returns to site on 70th anniversary of NHS

Bob Yearby, who worked on the original West Suffolk Hospital build, has returned to the site on the 70th anniversary of the NHS. (2905000)
Bob Yearby, who worked on the original West Suffolk Hospital build, has returned to the site on the 70th anniversary of the NHS. (2905000)

An architect who worked on the original West Suffolk Hospital building returned to the site today as a patient on the 70th anniversary of the NHS.

Bob Yearby, 87, spent around two years commuting to Bury from London when the hospital was being built in 1972 and is back to prepare for an operation some 46 years later.

“It feels very weird coming back now. But it’s 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 I’m back for another one," said Bob, who now lives in Sudbury.

“I’ve 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."

As the site architect, Bob was responsible for ensuring that everything, from clearing land to installing water, sewage, electric and gas systems, was done properly.

“It was a big operation. In those days it was close to £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," he said.

“I really did feel so great when it was done. It’s like all jobs – you’re very proud when it’s finished. But, you’ve got to move up and move on to the next job.”

The hospital was part of the Government’s ‘best buy’ system, which Bob said was essentially a blueprint for a new hospital build.

“The 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 – everything. The only modification people really made in the past was the front entrance," he said.

But the current building is a world away from the one that Bob worked on.

“It’s changed a tremendous amount,” he said.

“Now the build has gone out over the back, down the sides, there’s labs and a new children’s 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 – all of it.”

And Bob believes that we should expect even more change over the coming years when it comes to hospital structure and layout.

In another 10, 20 or 30 years, I think hospitals are going to look totally different again," he said.

“What doesn’t 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 ‘what do you think of this?’ And you would always get the best answers.

"All you have to do is listen and they’ll tell you what’s right and what’s wrong.”

And it's those people that Bob believes has made the NHS what it is over the past 70 years.

“The NHS is just a lifesaver all round isn’t it? I mean, a lot of people wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for the NHS. I can remember my mum going to the doctors and having to pay half a crown, but not now," he said.

“Every person makes a difference here though. It doesn’t matter if you’re a surgeon or if you clean the wards – one can’t do without the other. If the cleaner doesn’t do their job properly the surgeon is wasting their time. It’s one big team.”

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