Conditions were tough for patients and doctors in the early days at Braemar Hospital. Today, the hospital sets international benchmarks in technological and surgical breakthroughs.
In 1926, when Braemar Hospital first opened its doors as a private hospital on a site overlooking Hamilton’s lake, nurses sterilised equipment in the kitchen across the hall from the sole operating theatre; doctors cranked up the operating table by crawling beneath it to turn a wheel; and the anaesthetist used the ‘rag and bottle’ method to send patients to sleep – an open mask with chloroform.
The hospital had nine beds. Patients spent up to two weeks bed-ridden after an appendectomy and up to three weeks for a hysterectomy. There was no physiotherapy, so their legs swelled and muscles weakened, lengthening recovery time further.
Nurses worked an average 10-hour day and had one day off a fortnight. They were paid around one pound sterling a week, considered princely compared with the public hospital’s rate of around 12 shillings and sixpence. Braemar nurses pitched in to hand-wash laundry and one sister contributed preserves and home-baking for patients and staff.
Fast forward to 2016.
“It’s a bit hard to envisage isn’t it?” says Braemar chief executive Paul Bennett as he stands in front of the current state-of-the-art building, now occupying a 4ha site on the corner of Kahikatea Drive and Ohaupo Road.
In 2009, the hospital moved from its original premises to a $35m purpose-built hospital. Two years later an $11m second stage was added. A third is planned. The hospital is now the second largest private hospital in New Zealand on a single site.
Mr Bennett is hugely proud of the achievements chalked up throughout Braemar’s long history. He says the site – directly opposite Waikato Hospital – makes it easy for specialists to work at both the public and private hospitals. Last year, for the first time, the two hospitals combined to stage a surgical demonstration of an elbow transplant, a procedure rarely carried out in Australasia. The operation took place in one of Braemar’s digital operating rooms and was streamed live to other surgeons from around New Zealand.
Braemar is well known for its commitment to providing the most up-to-date equipment for its specialists. Earlier this year, the hospital featured in the media when it became the first hospital in Australasia to install ultra-high definition (4K) imaging in its operating theatres, enabling surgeons to carry out laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery with images that closely replicate what their naked eye would see looking into a body.
Ear, nose and throat surgeon John Clarkson says the technology offers “the possibility to perform surgery with greater accuracy and precision than has previously been possible.”
The installation of an O-Arm has also revolutionised spinal surgery. The equipment, which looks like a giant ‘O’ gives surgeons the ability to navigate a 3D map of the body part undergoing surgery. Surgeons say it’s like a second sight.
Three years ago, Braemar opened Waikato’s first private chemotherapy treatment centre, meaning patients who seek private care no longer have to drive to Auckland. All of the surgical specialties (with the exception of ophthalmology) and a growing number of medical specialties are now offered by the hospital. Some of the procedures carried out are unique in the private sector – a reflection of the high calibre of the medical associates and nursing staff.
Paul Bennett says it is essential to continue to invest in technology and services that support the skills of the specialists so that the best possible service can be offered to the people of Waikato and beyond.
Braemar now has 10 operating rooms and a five-bed ICU/HDU unit. It employs more than 200 staff. It is a vastly different operation from the hospital opened by Sister France Young in 1926.
But one thing hasn’t changed: the attention to niceties. Even in the very early days of its history, tea was served from silver teapots, and poured into delicate bone china cups. Meals were wholesome and included sister’s home-baking. Today, Braemar’s meals are still legendary. Head chef Louise Chidlow believes good food calms and relaxes people when they are stressed. And the tradition of home-baking continues with specialists, staff and patients enjoying a range of scones, muffins and biscuits to complement the restaurant-style meals.
Paul says it is important to retain Braemar’s core values as it continues to grow. “In the early days, staff talked about the respect between nurses and doctors, the collegial atmosphere and the patient-centered care offered. Those are still top priorities today. Hugh Clarkson, a past chairman and specialist anaesthetist called it ‘the Braemar way’.”
All these years later nothing has changed: all staff at Braemar ensure every patient receives the best possible experience while in hospital.
Braemar will celebrate its birthday this month with gifts of wine and cupcakes to patients, doctors and staff.