Alexandra Hospital


Alexandra Hospital officially opened in July 1940 as the British Military Hospital to provide medical facilities for British military personnel stationed in Singapore. During the Battle of Singapore in February 1942, many of the hospital’s staff and patients were killed by Japanese soldiers in what later became known as the Alexandra Hospital massacre. As a result of the British military withdrawal from Singapore in 1971, the hospital was converted into a civilian institution and became known as Alexandra Hospital. Over the years, the hospital has undergone several redevelopments and organisational restructuring in response to Singapore’s changing healthcare landscape.

Establishment as a military hospital
War preparations
As the threat of war in the region increased in the late 1930s, the British began fortifying their garrison in Singapore through a build-up of troops. Plans were put in place by the War Office to build a larger military hospital in Singapore to cope with the influx of British military personnel and their families.1

Construction and facilities
Construction work for the new British Military Hospital began in 1938 on a 32-acre site (approximately 130,000 sq m) at the junction of Alexandra Road and Queensway. Designed and constructed by a team of Royal Engineers under the supervision of the chief draughtsman, J. W. Colbran, the hospital consisted of a three-storey main block that accommodated 356 beds with medical, surgical and officer wards, as well as ancillary buildings comprising a barracks block, laboratory, mortuary and living quarters for staff and their families.2 A network of three tunnels was also built beneath the hospital, likely for the purposes of storing medical supplies and serving as air raid shelters.3

The hospital’s laboratory was well equipped and carried out routine work such as conducting urine and stool tests for food handlers and patients with dysentery. The mortuary had no refrigeration and a load of ice had to be ordered in each time a body was brought in for a post-mortem examination.4

The hospital officially opened in July 1940 with the total costs of construction amounting to over $1 million.5 After it opened, attempts were made to increase the hospital’s capacity but these were unsuccessful due to insufficient resources.6


Staff

The hospital was originally staffed by the 32nd Company of the Royal Army Medical Corps as well as nurses from the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service in England.7 Many staff members lived in the hospital’s three-storey barracks block, where their daily needs were provided for.8 Recreation took the form of sports like football, tennis and cricket, and hobbies such as photography and exploring the neighbouring Chinese kampong (“villages”) and the town area.9

The Alexandra Hospital massacre
The hospital was brutally assaulted by Japanese troops on 14 February 1942 during the last days of the Battle of Singapore. At this time, the hospital was accommodating approximately 900 patients, most of whom were wounded Allied soldiers. The assault took place despite the fact that the hospital was clearly marked with red crosses and a British troop captain had signalled peaceful intent as the Japanese troops approached.10 As they entered the hospital, the Japanese troops indiscriminately bayoneted or fired at people on sight, even those in the operating theatre. Around 260 people were taken captive and bayoneted the following morning.11 Some managed to escape the brutal massacre and lived to give their accounts of the incident.12


Postwar years
After the Japanese surrendered in 1945, the British developed the hospital to become the best equipped in Malaya in terms of facilities and medical expertise in its military medical services. The hospital was regarded as the “principal medical establishment for Commonwealth forces in the Far East”, and served the British military in times of conflict such as during the Confrontation with Indonesia from 1963 to 1966, when 90,000 troops were stationed in Singapore and Malaysia. The hospital treated common diseases such as malaria and dysentery, children’s diseases such as chicken pox, as well as less common ones like typhoid and tuberculosis. Its busiest department was Obstetrics and Gynaecology, which eventually closed down in 1989 when operations shifted to the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH).13

Developments as Alexandra Hospital
British handover
When the British military withdrew from Singapore in 1971, the hospital was handed over to the Ministry of Health in a simple ceremony held on 11 September 1971 for a token amount of one dollar. The hospital’s name was also changed to Alexandra Road General Hospital and it reopened four days later as a civilian hospital.14

Singapore’s first limb reattachment surgery
Alexandra Hospital carried out Southeast Asia’s first successful limb reattachment surgery on 12 April 1975.15 Leong Hin Seng, who worked at the hospital’s Surgical Department, had developed an interest in limb reattachment surgery since 1966 and had acquired the medical knowledge as well as the surgical instruments required to perform the surgery. The patient was Wong Yoke Lin, a female factory worker who had her arm severed at the elbow while operating machinery in a plywood factory. She was sent to Alexandra Hospital immediately after the accident. The medical team who performed the five-hour-long surgery comprised Leong, T. R. Achuthan, Sung Wing Heun and Ng Boon Keng. Several months later, another operation was done to join up the three severed nerves. The recovery was smooth and Wong was able to hold a pen four months after the first operation and, shortly after, to write.16

Redevelopment and focus on geriatrics
In 1991, the hospital underwent an S$18-million renovation that lasted several years to upgrade and reconfigure its wards as well as to add services such as a coronary care unit and day rooms for patients.17 In 1993, a cost review committee recommended that Alexandra Hospital establish its niche in community geriatrics and be equipped to provide efficient ambulatory care. In 1994, the hospital opened Singapore’s first geriatric centre comprising a day hospital, a 38-bed geriatric ward and a community services complex for outpatient, inpatient and house-bound elderly patients.18 The first comprehensive textbook on geriatric care for Singapore, written by local doctors and published in 1996, was edited by the hospital’s head of geriatrics, Chan Kin Ming.19


Management under the National University of Singapore
In 1995, Alexandra Hospital came under the management of the National University of Singapore (NUS), serving as the Alexandra campus of the university’s Faculty of Medicine.20 The collaboration between the two entities began in 1993 when Alexandra Hospital’s Paediatric Department became a satellite department of NUS, and its Medicine, General Surgery and Orthopaedics departments were split into two units with one headed by NUS doctors.21 The inpatient wards of the Paediatric Department eventually closed down in 1996 and cases requiring admission were referred to the National University Hospital.22 In 1997, the paediatric outpatient clinic ceased operations and the Paediatric Department was transferred to KKH.23

Recognition as a historic site and conservation
On 15 September 1998, Alexandra Hospital was marked as a historic site by the National Heritage Board in recognition of the medical services it provided during World War II and in commemoration of the victims of the Japanese massacre.24 A plaque was erected in front of the hospital fountain and unveiled during the marking ceremony, which paid tribute to the victims of the massacre with a “Last Post” call by the Singapore Armed Forces buglers and the observation of a minute of silence. A commemorative book titled Alexandra Hospital: From British Military to Civilian Institution, 1938–1998 was also produced that year in partnership with Singapore Polytechnic’s Department of Language and Communication.25

In 2013, a grassroots organisation successfully lobbied for the hospital to be marked for conservation under the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s draft masterplan released that year. On 6 June 2014, Alexandra Hospital, along with 74 other buildings, was gazetted as a conserved building in the Master Plan 2014.26

Restructuring under healthcare cluster system
In 2000, Alexandra Hospital was restructured and came under the management of the National Healthcare Group, which was then managing the western healthcare cluster in Singapore.27 There were plans at the time to close Alexandra Hospital after the new regional hospitals were built. In 2001, it was announced that Alexandra Hospital would close when a new 650-bed hospital was completed in Jurong in 2006.28 However, due to a shortage of hospital beds in Singapore then, the 350-bed Alexandra Hospital was kept operational.29


In 2008, Alexandra Hospital came under the management of AlexandraHealth, the healthcare cluster that was also overseeing the building of the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Yishun.30 When the latter opened in 2010, the management of Alexandra Hospital was handed over to JurongHealth, which also held the groundbreaking ceremony of the upcoming Ng Teng Fong General Hospital (NTFGH) that year.31 When NTFGH began operations in June 2015, the management of Alexandra Hospital was assumed by Sengkang Health and subsequently closed for renovations.32

Alexandra Hospital reopened on 11 August 2015 with services catering to stable patients who require an extended period of care. Specialist clinics will open in stages from the first quarter of 2016.33



Author

Irene Lim



References
1. Partridge, J. (1998). Alexandra Hospital: From British military to civilian institution 1938–1998. Singapore: The Hospital, pp. 16, 18, 20. (Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 PAR)
2. Partridge, J. (1998). Alexandra Hospital: From British military to civilian institution 1938–1998. Singapore: The Hospital, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 PAR); Big Singapore military hospital. (1938, August 7). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; New Singapore military hospital. (1939, January 29). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Partridge, J. (1998). Alexandra Hospital: From British military to civilian institution 1938–1998. Singapore: The Hospital, pp. 120–122. (Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 PAR)
4. Partridge, J. (1998). Alexandra Hospital: From British military to civilian institution 1938–1998. Singapore: The Hospital, p. 35. (Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 PAR)
5. Partridge, J. (1998). Alexandra Hospital: From British military to civilian institution 1938–1998. Singapore: The Hospital, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 PAR); New military hospital now open. (1940, July 28). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Partridge, J. (1998). Alexandra Hospital: From British military to civilian institution 1938–1998. Singapore: The Hospital, p. 26. (Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 PAR)
7. Partridge, J. (1998). Alexandra Hospital: From British military to civilian institution 1938–1998. Singapore: The Hospital, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 PAR); New military hospital now open. (1940, July 28). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Partridge, J. (1998). Alexandra Hospital: From British military to civilian institution 1938–1998. Singapore: The Hospital, p. 33. (Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 PAR)
9. Partridge, J. (1998). Alexandra Hospital: From British military to civilian institution 1938–1998. Singapore: The Hospital, pp. 26, 34, 36–39. (Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 PAR)
10. Bruton, P. (1989). The matter of a massacre: Alexandra Hospital Singapore 14th/15th February 1942, p. 10. (Call no.: RSING q940.5425 BRU-[WAR])
11. Partridge, J. (1998). Alexandra Hospital: From British military to civilian institution 1938–1998. Singapore: The Hospital, pp. 56–62, 64–66. (Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 PAR)
12. Bruton, P. (1989). The matter of a massacre: Alexandra Hospital Singapore 14th/15th February 1942, p. 10. (Call no.: RSING q940.5425 BRU-[WAR])
13. Partridge, J. (1998). Alexandra Hospital: From British military to civilian institution 1938–1998. Singapore: The Hospital, p. 80, 82, 96. (Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 PAR); Toh, S. (1989, June 11). Alexandra hospital to close baby wards. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Partridge, J. (1998). Alexandra Hospital: From British military to civilian institution 1938–1998. Singapore: The Hospital, p. 100. (Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 PAR); Ministry takes over army hospital. (1971, August 31). The Straits Times, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Partridge, J. (1998). Alexandra Hospital: From British military to civilian institution 1938–1998. Singapore: The Hospital, pp. 108–110. (Call no.: 362.11095957 PAR); Alexandra Hospital. (2015). History of Alexandra Hospital. Retrieved from Alexandra Hospital website: http://www.ah.com.sg/AboutUs/History/Pages/Home.aspx
16. Partridge, J. (1998). Alexandra Hospital: From British military to civilian institution 1938–1998. Singapore: The Hospital, pp. 108, 110, 112. (Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 PAR)
17. $18m for Alexandra Hospital but no plans to privatise. (1992, May 30). The Straits Times, p. 28; The hospital’s many phases through the past half century. (1995, June 26). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Partridge, J. (1998). Alexandra Hospital: From British military to civilian institution 1938–1998. Singapore: The Hospital, p. 126. (Call no.: RSING 362.11095957 PAR); Alexandra Hospital. (1994). Annual report. Singapore: The Hospital, p. 2. (Call no.: RCLOS 362.11095957 AHAR-[AR])
19. Alexandra Hospital. (1996). Annual report. Singapore: The Hospital, pp. 7, 10, 18. (Call no.: RCLOS 362.11095957 AHAR-[AR])
20. Alexandra Hospital. (1995). Annual report. Singapore: The Hospital, pp. 3–5. (Call no.: RCLOS 362.11095957 AHAR-[AR]); Bringing medical students slap up against reality. (1995, June 26). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Alexandra Hospital. (1993). Annual report. Singapore: The Hospital, p. 2. (Call no.: RCLOS 362.11095957 AHAR-[AR])
22. Alexandra Hospital. (1996). Annual report. Singapore: The Hospital, p. 11. (Call no.: RCLOS 362.11095957 AHAR-[AR])
23. Alexandra Hospital. (1997). Annual report. Singapore: The Hospital, p. 11. (Call no.: RCLOS 362.11095957 AHAR-[AR])
24. Recognition: History of hospital, S’pore linked. (1998, September 16). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Alexandra Hospital made historic landmark. (1998, September 15). The New Paper, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Alexandra Hospital. (1998). Annual report. Singapore: The Hospital, p. 9. (Call no.: RCLOS 362.11095957 AHAR-[AR])
26. 75 buildings gazetted for conservation under URA’s Master Plan 2014. (2014, June 6). Today. Retrieved from Factiva.
27. Ministry of Health. (2001). Annual report 2001. Singapore: Ministry of Health, pp. 44, 46–47. Retrieved from Ministry of Health website: https://www.moh.gov.sg/content/dam/moh_web/Publications/Reports/2002/2/MOH_AR_FA.pdf
28. Foo, T. (2001, June 30). Jurong to have 650-bed hospital by 2006. The Business Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Khalik, S. (2012, September 9). Alexandra Hospital to operate till 2018. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
30. Yishun hospital to focus on whole, not just ‘body parts’. (2008, September 20). Today. Retrieved from Factiva; Shankari, U. (2004, March 23). Yishun to house new public hospital. The Business Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Yishun hospital to open A&E centre on Monday. (2010, June 26). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; JurongHealth. (2016). Our milestones: 2010. Retrieved from JurongHealth website: https://www.juronghealth.com.sg/We_Are_JurongHealth/Our_Milestones.aspx
32. Khalik, S. (2015, June 30). Alexandra Hospital closes for revamp. MyPaper. Retrieved from Factiva.
33. Alexandra Hospital reopens, will ramp up operations in phases. (2015, August 11). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.



The information in this article is valid as at 22 February 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Public health
Health and medicine>>Health services
Streets and Places
Politics and Government>> Health
Hospitals--Singapore
Architecture and Landscape>>Architectural Styles
Historic buildings--Singapore
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings

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