History of public health

The earliest example of organised healthcare in Coventry was in existence by at least 1793. The General or Charitable Dispensary was financed by charity alone, and was intended for those who had "such claims to respectability" that they should be saved from resorting to parish aid. This was joined in 1831 by the Provident Dispensary in Bayley Lane, one of the earliest self-supporting dispensaries. There were two classes of subscribers: honorary members, whose contributions took the form of charitable donations, and "free" members, who paid a weekly or yearly sum to secure medical benefits.


Coventry's periodic rapid growth outstripped its sanitation systems: overcrowded, poor living conditions combined with ineffective sewerage, drainage and refuse disposal systems lead to frequent epidemics and a high death toll. When the Commissioners on the State of Large Towns investigated Coventry in 1843 they found that there was no Act or regulation in force regarding drainage or sewerage, and an inquiry under the Public Health Act of 1848 lead to the city council being established as the local Board of Health in 1849 with associated powers, and the first Medical Officer of Health was appointed in 1874.


The increasing pressure on the General Dispensary during the 1830s drew attention to the need for a general hospital. The first, the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital, was founded in 1838 in a converted private house. The General Dispensary was merged with the hospital, and to cope with increasing demand, in 1863 a site in Stoney Stanton Road on which to build a larger hospital was acquired from Sir Thomas White's trustees and King Henry VIII Grammar School. The hospital was completed in 1866.


Plans for a workhouse hospital were submitted in 1845, and in 1871 the Local Government Board approved a plan for an infectious diseases hospital (known first as the Poor Law Institution, and later until 1929,

 the Coventry Poor Law Hospital) at the workhouse. By 1888 there was an infirmary with seven wards, but due to its inadequacy in several areas, the foundation stone of a new infirmary was laid in 1889. The workhouse infirmary combined the functions of a general, infectious diseases, and mental hospital.


A serious scarlet fever outbreak in 1874 instigated the opening of a fever hospital in Coventry known as the City Isolation Hospital. The first stop-gap hospital was replaced by a larger one in 1885, where scarlet fever and diphtheria were the principal diseases dealt with after a separate smallpox hospital was erected at Pinley Hill Farm in 1897.


Hospital expansion was steady for a while and generally related to demand, but the First World War provided further impetus and rapid industrial growth between the two World Wars was an important factor in further general growth.


Following the Local Government Act of 1929, the public health committee of the Corporation took control of the workhouse hospital, then renamed the Gulson Road Municipal Hospital. The hospital was open to all the sick inhabitants of Coventry, but priority was still given to the sick poor. The old workhouse was absorbed into the hospital in 1937.


Paybody Hospital opened in 1929 as a convalescent home for crippled children when Thomas Paybody donated £2,000, together with a large house in Allesley, to the Coventry Crippled Children's Guild. About the same time, negotiations began for the sale of the old fever hospital in 1927–9, and the newly-built Whitley Isolation Hospital opened in 1934.


During the bombing of 1940–1, Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital was virtually destroyed, and although Gulson and Whitley hospitals also sustained damage, Gulson became the main casualty hospital while most other services were dispersed to other hospitals in the region.

 In 1948, under the National Health Service Act (1946), Coventry Hospital Management Committee took over the control of 23 institutions and annexes, 10 of which lay within the boundaries of the city. At the same time, the long-established Provident Dispensary was dissolved.


University Hospital Coventry (photo 2007)In 1951 Allesley House was closed, and Allesley Hall initially became an annexe of Paybody Hospital before closing in 1959. In 1962 the relatively few orthopaedic cases at Paybody Hospital were moved to Whitley Hospital to be replaced a year later by ophthalmic patients from the Keresley branch of the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital.


To meet the demands for a modern up-to-date general hospital, a new Walsgrave Hospital was opened in 1970, replacing a hospital of the same name that had existed from 1926–62.Whitley Hospital closed in 1988, followed by Gulson Road Hospital in 1998.


Building work commenced on a new University Hospital project in 2002 which consolidated the Walsgrave and Coventry & Warwickshire Hospitals into a single state of the art development behind the existing Walsgrave Hospital site. In 2006 the two hospitals moved into the University Hospital, and the existing Walsgrave Hospital