Happy 76th Birthday NHS – the journey of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital

Today marks the 76th anniversary of the NHS, but did you know that the Queen Elizabeth Hospital has an even longer history?

For over 80 years, it has been an integral part of the community, with our highly rated maternity unit being the original building that still stands today.

The origins of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital can be traced back to a pre-war hospital centralisation effort as an infectious diseases hospital. In 1936, the Medical Officer of Health of Gateshead recognised the need for a 250-bed general hospital and a 20-bed maternity unit.

After experiencing delays due to World War 2, the hospital building was finally completed in 1945, and the maternity unit opened in December 1943, initially serving expectant mothers evacuated from London. During the war, the hospital expanded to accommodate 110 beds and 34 maternity beds.

The official opening by Queen Elizabeth (later known as the Queen Mother) took place on Thursday 18 March 1948—three months before the formation of the NHS. Back then, student nurses who worked shifts either resided at Bensham Hospital or stayed in a ward on the Queen Elizabeth site. They followed a three-shift pattern, while trained staff had the option to be non-residents.

The hospital underwent significant improvements over time, including the addition of A&E and Outpatients departments, new operating theatres, and a medical record department. Since then, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital has been serving families across Gateshead and beyond for generations.

One of the first families to take the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to its heart is the Cree family, whose journey began in May 1948 at the newly opened Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Pat Stephenson (nee Cree) was born in 1948 at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Maternity Unit. Pat comments on her family’s experience:

Four of us siblings were born to Margaret and Tommy Cree. Two of us were born in the maternity unit, while two of my siblings were a home birth. Two of my children were born in the Unit -1968 and 1972. Two of my grandchildren were also born in the same maternity unit and my great-granddaughter.

My sister Kathleen and her two daughters were born in the Maternity Unit. Kath’s two grandsons and one granddaughter were also born there. My brother Tom had three children; two daughters were also born at the QE maternity unit and his grandson was born there. We are a family embedded in the Gateshead community, and the maternity unit is a cornerstone of our family history

Pat Stephenson

In Pat’s early years, her family leaned heavily on the hospital due to her heart condition. Her mother, a dedicated fundraiser sold handmade knitting toys along the corridors of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to support various charities. It was from her mother that Pat was inspired to start fundraising. Despite battling two different types of cancer and undergoing multiple treatments, Pat has emerged as a fundraising superstar for the Gateshead Health Charity, having raised nearly £4,000 since 2021.

Pat said, “I chose to support Gateshead Health Charity as I wanted to return the support I have received. I have had multiple treatments at the QE Hospital throughout my journey with cancer and the care has been outstanding. Gateshead Health Trust supports the local community with their health and care needs.

To thank the NHS I will continue to raise money for Gateshead Health Charity to support the patient experience here in Gateshead.”

Pat and Kath sisters who were born at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital
Pat Stephenson (right) her sister Kath (left) then and now

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital has long been an integral part of the community, playing a significant role in the lives of multiple generations. Brenda, Rachel, and Charlie represent three generations of the same family, all born at the hospital. Rachel now works in the hospital’s surgery centre.

The family members praise the maternity unit and the staff for their professionalism, compassion, and care. They also talk about how the unit has evolved over the years, with the latest technologies and advancements in healthcare making the experience even better.

three generations who were born at the queen elizabeth hospital
Brenda, Rachel and Charlie who were all born at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital

As we celebrate 76 years of the NHS, Gateshead Health would like to thank our outstanding staff, both past and present, for their dedication and invaluable contributions. We extend our heartfelt appreciation to all our patients and the wider community of Gateshead and beyond for their support over the years.