Bedford Hospital was officially opened in August 1803, the result of its generous benefactor Samuel Whitbread I who bequeathed the sum of £8000 in a codicil to his will when he died in 1796. Mr Whitbread, who was noted for his philanthropy, stipulated that £4000 must be spent on the hospital’s building and £4000 on services. It was the start of a campaign to purchase the land and design the building under the skilful management of local architect John Wing. The planning committee who included the Duke of Bedford, Lord John Russell and Samuel Whitbread II undertook responsibility for raising the additional funds necessary for to the hospital’s construction and for engaging the clinical staff.
They made swift progress, agreeing that the medical establishment should consist of one physician, two surgeons in-ordinary (as they were then known), and one house surgeon who combined apothecary duties into his portfolio. On Saturday 13 August, the first six-bed ward was open for business. The Duke of Bedford was appointed Grand Visitor and Samuel Whitbread was the Perpetu al President.
Now, Bedford Hospital consists of 440 beds and has over 2000 members od staff. The hospital serves a population of about 270,000 in the Mid and North Bedfordshire area and patients come from many other parts of the region to receive their care. While some of the original facilities still stand, they are complemented by an increasing number of modern healthcare buildings that are purpose-built and designed for the latest in technological advances. Quality patient care was the mantra of the original hospital’s purpose and this has not changed in the last 200 years.
Health has changed in the intervening period and the way services are provided are radically different from those first early days. However the principle of putting patients first has not changed. Bedford Hospital will continue to explore better ways of delivering healthcare taking into consideration the improvements in health technology and the changing face of the NHS.