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In the latter years of the 19th century health care in Bangkok was rudimentary and based on traditional Chinese and Thai medicine. Yet Bangkok was growing as a base for British and other foreign companies and an increasing numbers of expatriate employees who demanded familiar western-type health care. Western style clinics and hospitals were unknown and doctors trained in contemporary western medicine were exceptional by their absence.
On 20 August 1897 Bangkok's British community met at the British Legation with Mr George Grenville the resident British Minister and Consul General; this group proposed the establishment of a hospital modeled on contemporary British practice. As was the custom their decision was proposed to the Siamese monarch, King Chulalongkorn, who endorsed it and instructed the Ministry of Education to supervise the establishment of a nursing home exclusively for the care of Bangkok's foreign residents.
The king stipulated that the nursing home should be a non-profit organisation and provided an annual grant of 960 baht.
In the middle of 1898, two British nurses Matron Cawley and the hospital's first nursing sister Miss Hitchens arrived from the UK and by August the hospital was ready to receive its first patients.
Its first home was in temporary rented accommodation a little way from its present location. In the first few years the hospital faced many difficulties, not the least of them financial. There were times when salaries could not be paid, but nurses being what they are, continued their work.
In 1899 the Siamese economy faced a crisis of confidence resulting in an economic slump, making the hospital's precarious financial situation more insecure. But in the year between its opening and the financial crisis the Bangkok Nursing Home had proved its value to the expatriate community, it was clear that it had become a resource that was too valuable to lose.
However the haemorrhaging of funds was not easily stemmed, so in April 1901 another meeting was held at the Court House of the British Legation. The original founding group was wound up and a new association established in September of that year, under the wing of a certain Mr Halliday who took over the assets of 2000 baht. Mr Halliday also had the responsibility of paying the nurses' salaries.
Later in 1901 the Bangkok Nursing Home Association raised a loan of 50 000 baht and purchased a plot of land in Convent Road from the Crown Property Office. Just twelve months later a new hospital, built at a cost of 31 762 baht was opened.
With an average load of only 50 patients each year between 1902 and 1912 it cannot be said that the nursing staff were overworked. But from this small base the hospital's fortune and revenues grew steadily to such a point that in 1912 a new wing was built. The new building was funded partly by public subscription and by a 500 baht donation from Siam's Anglophile King Vajiravudh. The King Chulalongkorn Wing housed an operating theatre and a maternity ward and was opened by King Vajiravudh on 23 July 1912.
Just four years later further expansion was necessary and an 8 000 baht gift from the king facilitated further expansion. By 1922 the Bangkok Nursing Home's services were in such demand that it was necessary to build a new hospital.
It appears that money was still tight and the required funds were not readily available. The governing Committee examined a number of funding methods including public subscriptions and a lottery; a combination of a lottery and public subscriptions were considered the best means of raising funds.
The lottery raised 89 354 baht and public subscriptions 40 000 baht allowing the Nursing Home to buy land for its new building which opened thirty years after the founding of the original hospital.
In the late 1980s early 90s the BNH was again stretched to its limit and in need of expansion. With its historical association with the Thai Royal Family, the management committee approached the Crown Property Bureau to become a partner in the building of a new international standard hospital.
And on the 14 February 1996 the new Bangkok Nursing Home was opened and a few years later it re-branded itself as the BNH Hospital.
A measure of its success is, that in its 107th year it is initiating another upgrading of its services and facilities. George Grenville and the founding fathers would be proud that the little nursing home in rented accommodation, based on British principles, is now one of the leading international hospitals in South East Asia.
Because of its roots in the British community and more importantly as it was established as a charitable non-profit institution the BNH still values its role as a contributor to the well being of the people of Bangkok. To this end it organises a major semi-annual fund raising event in the form of a 'bed push'. Over the two years since the first bed push the BNH Hospital has raised over two million baht for a children's charity.
Tel: (+662) 686-2700
Address: 9/1, Convent Road, Silom Bangkok 10500, Thailand