Plymouth's historic Royal Eye Infirmary closes after final operation
THE doors have closed and the last one out has turned off the lights, but the Royal Eye Infirmary is looking to the future.
Opened by Lady Mary Parker on October 30, 1901 at a cost of £12,015, the REI in Apsley Road, Mutley, has been one of the city's most iconic buildings through two World Wars and beyond.
But a £5m investment will see state-of-the-art ophthalmology facilities at Derriford Hospital replace the decrepit and aging building which is no longer "fit for purpose".
Sue Bullock, theatre manager, has been at the REI for 21 years and said the place looked "old and tired". She said: "You manage with the place you're in, but then you go up to the new facilities and wonder how you managed here. It's cramped, we've had floods, damp, the lift breaks, if you want to take patients to outpatients two you have to go outside if they're in a wheelchair, even if it's raining or snowing. It's a lovely old building but it's not practical."
Sue said staff would not miss the "out-of-hours" operations which have to be carried out at Derriford. Sue said: "If it's an emergency in the evenings or weekends we have to come in, pack up our operating equipment, drive it up to Derriford, do the operation and bring everything back again. If you're called in on a Saturday for an emergency, that's the day gone."
Martin Giddy, REI service manager agreed the building was not ideal for the more elderly patients.
He said: "The last time we had the lift fixed we had to have bearings specially made. We think it must be the oldest lift in the city.
"Our productivity is really good here but there will be a better experience for the patients at the new facility. We do around 3,000 cataract operations a year and that demand will only increase. The building is old and our patients can't always manage the narrow stairs or avoid the potholes outside, or the narrow busy corridors. Today our oldest patient was 92 while the youngest was 62."
Staff insist the REI's historic legacy would continue at Derriford.
Consultant Ophthalmologist Kwabena Frimpong-Ansah said the REI name was being kept, which had pleased staff.
He said: "It was essential we kept our family identity. Keeping the name Royal Eye Infirmary was important to us. We will continue to work together, but we will still be a part of the Derriford team."
Equipment was still being boxed up this week, while the basement area was already cleared out.
All that remained in the children's department was the signs of use, including ageing cupboards with Bakelite handles, decorated with colourful cartoon pictures. Along parts of the wall were clear signs of damp, while overhead ominous notices warning of asbestos lagging on pipes.
After carrying out his very last cataract operation in theatre three of the building on Wednesday afternoon Bharat Shrestha, associate specialist, said he hoped the move would help increase productivity.
He said while a usual day of cataract operations could deal with six patients, he hoped it could be increased to seven or even eight per day. He said: "The rooms here are not ideal for the movement of patients. Here, two or three minutes can make a big difference. Moving patients in and out is lengthy and the preparation can waste time. "Over time we have improved on it, but the building is not purpose built. If we can save time between operations I could get another two operations in. Saving time, we could increase output."
He later finds time to share a joke with his very last patient at the hospital. Jean Price, aged 77, from Torpoint was not only his sixth and final cataract operation of the day, but also the last to undergo such an operation at the building. On hearing her unique status she exclaimed: "It's remarkable really. I used to work as a tailoress in Mutley Plain in my younger days, working for the bespoke tailor, Butland and Treloar. I worked there for five years and I used to look at it [the REI] from the attic everyday.
"I would watch this building and think it was something spectacular from the outside."
The new REI will have a 60 room Ophthalmology unit with an outpatient department, urgent care and a dispensing optician across level 3 and two day-case unit theatres on level 7. A planning application has been made to turn the old REI into apartments and retirement flats.