Staff look back on 40 years at Cork University Hospital

Many of the staff at CUH — dubbed the ‘Wilton Hilton’ — have been there since it first opened, writes Denise O’Donoghue.

For some of the longest-serving staff at Cork University Hospital (CUH), there’s a lot to look back on over the past four decades.

Staff who started at the then Cork Regional Hospital 40 years ago, Joan O’Neill and Gerard Buckley. Picture Dan Linehan.

The hospital first opened its doors to the public 40 years ago last month, and some of those first few to walk the corridors are still there today.

Gerard Buckley joined the CUH’s medical records department a few days before the official opening.

“It opened on November 30 and I came over three or four days before that,” he said.

The last Lord Mayor, Tony Fitzgerald, he was a porter. Tony brought in the first patient.

Gerard’s colleagues began to fill the wards, labs and offices in the following months and years.

“We didn’t come until the middle of February 1979,” said medical scientist, Anne Sheehan, who moved to the then Cork Regional Hospital from St Finbarr’s Hospital.

“Weren’t we lucky to come over here to the ‘Wilton Hilton’?” Anne loved the social side of her work life in the early years and her wedding day is a memory she associated fondly with the hospital.

“On my wedding day my granny was in here as a patient and mum said I had to go in and see her,” she said.

“The nurses came down and they lined the corridor. They were fantastic. They all clapped, it was like a guard of honour in and out.

“Over the years I have genuinely made some very good friends through here,” said Gerard.

For Anne, one of the first things to impress her was the quality of the canteen food.

“We couldn’t get over the food in the canteen. I put on nearly a stone in the first few months.”

Gerard added: “40 years ago there was chicken curry on a Tuesday and it’s still the same.”

Staff who started at the then Cork Regional Hospital 40 years ago, Anne Sheehan and Colette Healy. Picture Dan Linehan.

While the menu may not have changed greatly over the years, the staff has seen many developments.

“It’s like a city in itself now,” Anne said.

Staff officer Margaret Twohig, who has worked in the CUH since 1997, has seen many changes over the years.

Since I started 21 years ago, medical records have moved and quadrupled in size, the acute medical ward has opened, the A&E department has moved and reopened. I could go on and on.

“We take it for granted because we’re working here for so long.”

Clinical nurse manager, Joan O’Neill, said she is amazed that any ailment can be treated at the CUH, which is the only Level 1 Trauma centre in the country.

“It’s amazing in a way,” she said. “You can come in and you could be having a baby, having a heart attack, having an aneurysm, you could be having anything — there’s nothing that can’t be dealt with here now.”

Staff officer, Eileen Healy, said Cork people are lucky to have such a facility easily available to them.

“I think that we’re lucky that we have a state-of-the-art hospital here in Cork,” she said. “We are very fortunate that it’s on our doorstep.”

Staff who started at the then Cork Regional Hospital 40 years ago, Margaret Twohig and Eileen Healy. Picture Dan Linehan.

Colette Healy, clinical nurse manager, said she didn’t fully appreciate the standard of care at the hospital when she was training in 1990.

“Training here — everything was here and you never appreciated it. You just take it for granted,” she said.

Laboratory manager, Sinead Creagh, has seen a number of labs upgraded.

“There have been upgrades to the labs. Two of the labs are totally revamped and there are plans to revamp two more,” she said.

These upgrades also meant staff had to change their approach to work.

“You hit the ground running every day,” Gerard said.

Years ago when I was younger I couldn’t get up out of bed in the morning, it was a last minute rush [to work]. Nowadays you have to be so alert first thing in the morning because you don’t know what comes in overnight.

One area they would like to see developed is the parking facilities for staff.

“The number of staff have multiplied but the parking hasn’t multiplied,” said Eileen. “There was never a problem with parking [40 years ago]. Now it’s a nightmare before you ever get to work.”

Joan agrees: “You have to come in an hour early just to park.”

Life at CUH for many has become a family affair. Anne’s son works as a porter, and new generations often join the staff.

“There’s a lot of family members working here,” Anne said.

Many have seen children take over their parents’ positions.

“I noticed when I started here first, you’re working with the consultants,” Eileen said. “They have all retired and now their children are the consultants.”

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