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Half a century of medical care winds down at Akrotiri.


Nathan Morley

THE PRINCIPAL hospital for the British forces in Cyprus is to close its doors next month after 49 years of continuous operation.

The Princess Margaret Hospital (TPMH) on the Akrotiri peninsula will transfer all medical care to the Ygia Polyclinic in Limassol as part of an overhaul in British military medicare.

"The TPMH will cease business on November the first this year. This is a major change programme. It affects all of our people and it's a different way of life and TPMH has been part of our lives and fabric for many years. It's done a great job," the commander of British Forces in Cyprus Air Vice Marshal Graham Stacey told British Forces Radio.

The historic hospital has had a famous and colourful history. It became a focus of media attention in 1986 after a daring raid using 60-mm mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons was launched against Akrotiri base by a small group of pro-Libyan terrorists.

Miraculously, casualties were limited to two injured women and a slightly damaged building. The attack was primarily in retaliation for British support of the US bombing of Libya that same year.

During the early nineties, the hospital was used as a 'Low Care Transit Facility during the first Gulf War, then in 1991 Beirut hostages Terry Waite, John McCarthy and Jackie Mann were treated at Akrotiri when they were first released from captivity.

The hospital currently serves around 6,000 people, comprising mostly of military personnel, UK-based civilians and their dependents; with an average of 1,200 patients a year receiving treatment.

"The construct of a cottage hospital within the military medical network is just no longer viable, we have to change - and change in a way that's looks after our people," Stacey said.

The Ygia Polyclinic, which is the largest private hospital in Limassol, has 152 beds, 11 operating theatres, twelve in-house doctors, a chemical laboratory, X-ray facilities and an intensive care unit.

Military personnel from the hospital at Akrotiri will be re-deployed to alternative locations, with some civilian staff expected to either be transferred to the private sector or take redundancy.

"We are negotiating with individuals and with unions and we will wherever possible look after individual needs," Stacey said. "Some people will find other jobs or be offered them; some make take the opportunity to take redundancy - in the same way I've talked about looking after our patients we also wish to look after our professionals."

Air Vice Marshal Stacey said the closure was not related to a series of recommended draconian cuts in spending on the British garrisons as part of Britian's recent defence and security review.

"This is driven by clinical risk. We are out of step with the way medical matters are handled in the UK and we now have an increasingly small patient base and it's proving very difficult just to keep competencies and to cover all the various disciplines that we need to cover in a hospital," he said.

The British government is attempting to reduce all military spending by eight per cent over the next four years, with defence chiefs being told they need to justify "everyone and everything" and that the review would be both "unsentimental and unemotional".

Bases authorities say they expect to demolish the hospital as the best long term solution, but a decision will follow an extensive survey and environmental assessment. It is thought due to its age that asbestos is lurking in ceiling tiles and insulation, meaning the building is in a potentially dangerous condition.

The first hospital opened on Akrotiri base in 1957, along with new married quarters in the form of prefabricated bungalows laid out as a model village.

At the time Akrotiri was slated to be the best British-controlled territory between London and the Far East and an ambitious development plan included the construction of churches, cinemas, shops and sports facilities, with the new TPMH facility at Cape Zevgari beginning in 1961.

According to Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps, the hospital cost one million pounds sterling to construct with builders using reinforced concrete with built in earthquake protection. The impressive complex was opened to patients in May 1963 by Princess Margaret.

The hospital was affectionately nicknamed Alcatraz by locals, because of its exposed location on the Akrotiri peninsula.

The hospital downsized its capacity in 1975 after the RAF completed the reduction of its front line strength in Cyprus after a wave of defence cuts, but the downsized facility played an instrumental role in treating US Marines from Beirut in 1983 who were seriously injured in a suicide bomb attack.

The Princess Margaret Hospital is closing down after 49 years

Copyright Cyprus Mail 2012

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Date:Oct 7, 2012
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