Royal visits, death threats and a 13-year fight to obtain the right deal for Papworth Hospital

Stephen Bridge has published a book called The Battles Fought about his time at Papworth

Stephen Bridge has published a book called The Battles Fought about his time at Papworth - Credit: Archant

A former chief executive of Papworth Hospital has published a book which reveals the turmoil and set-backs behind the hospital’s much-publicised move to the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

Stephen Bridge was at the helm for almost three decades and spent much of that time fighting to prevent various bids to close or transfer the small, pioneering and much-loved hospital nestled in the centre of Papworth Everard.

The book, called The Battles Fought, chronicles his struggle to obtain the best deal for the hospital which eventually culminated in the current state-of-the-art building on the Cambridge site.

In his book, Mr Bridge, who joined the hospital in June, 1988, talks candidly about the behind-the-scenes friction and in-fighting with politicians and health service providers.

On his second day in the job, he found himself hosting Princess Diana who was visiting in her capacity as patron of the British Lung Foundation.


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"These high profile visits made me realise how this small specialist hospital on the edge of the Cambridgeshire fens consistently punched above its weight," he says.

In 1989, the hospital's famous duck pond began cracking and Mr Bridge managed to secure £25,000 in charity funds to meet the repair bill, which he says enhanced his reputation early on.

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Over the next few years he fought to ensure Papworth remained in the village, continually being told he needed to "see the bigger picture" and receiving strong hints that if Papworth did not agree to transfer its services to Cambridge, a move supported by many of the Papworth consultants, Addembrooke's would open its own cardiothoracic unit.

Despite the internal and external battles, Mr Bridge presided over £36.6 million-pounds worth of building and expansion schemes at Papworth between 1988 and 2015.

Mr Bridge goes on to recall a bizarre incident in 1996 when the relative of a former transplant patient who had died, threatened to kill staff at Papworth and Addenbrooke's who had been involved in his wife's care. The man said he was a former member of the Kray gang and if he didn't get a meeting with high-ranking staff there would be a "bloodbath".

A meeting was arranged and armed police were positioned in the area. He arrived with a carrier bag, which was searched for a weapon, but actually contained his packed lunch. After a time he became extremely agitated and said if he didn't receive some "better answers" there would soon be dead bodies around. The meeting was adjourned, but the man continued to make threats, including telling Mr Bridge "one night you could be sitting at your desk and the next 'boom' and you're gone". He continued to make threats about shooting people and knowing people who would do it for him, but these calls were being recorded by police and he was later arrested and charged.

In 2003, Mr Bridge was left in no doubt that the "clock was ticking" on plans to merge Papworth with Addenbrooke's. Over the next two years, plans were drawn up to create a new hospital on the Bio-Medical Campus which he describes as a "game of snakes and ladders".

In January, the commissioning authorities finally approved the plan to move Papworth to the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, but just two weeks later, he received a letter from Monitor that again put the plan on hold. There was even a plan to move Papworth to the fourth floor of Peterborough City Hospital which was struggling with a large deficit.

A £165 million deal for the new hospital was finally approved by the treasury in June 2014. More delays followed with preferred bidder Skanska threatening to walk away at one stage.

"Thirteen years after having submitted our first business case for the move to the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, and after countless reviews by the Department of Health, the treasury and other health bodies, confirmed the move was going to happen. As 2015 drew to a close, and I reached the age of 60, I gave a lot of thought to my future and concluded that as I was also approaching 40 years working in the NHS it was the right time to bow out."

As I left Papworth at the end of March 2016, I felt proud that my management style has left the hospital in good shape, much stronger than when I joined in 1988. Over my 28 years the number of patients treated increased from 7,000 to 107,000 a year; the number of staff employed had grown from 400 to 2,000 and the hospital's annual budget increased from £8 million to £140 million. Despite the massive increase in NHS red tape over those years, I felt we maintained the 'can do' ethos that inherited from the senior medical and nursing staff in 1988 and in the three years since I left Papworth it is gratifying to see that the hospital is still a leading institution in the NHS. The start of an exciting new era on the world-class Cambridge Biomedical Campus has now begun where Papworth will surely thrive for the next 100 years.

INFO: If you would like a copy of the book contact: stephenbridge2@aol.co.uk, or call: 01480 830157. Mr Bridge will deliver the book for £6, with 50p going to the Papworth Charity. Alternatively, it is on Amazon for £6.50.

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