Whanganui DHB celebrates Newcombe Ward's 80th anniversary


14 August

On Friday 17 August, Whanganui District Health Board (WDHB) staff will celebrate the 80th anniversary of Newcombe Ward which was officially opened on 18 August 1938 by Wanganui Hospital board chairman Mr W.E. Broderick.

Newcombe Ward was named after Wanganui Hospital board member Miss Mildred Newcombe (pictured) who died on 20 September 1938, a month after the opening.

This new isolation ward replaced the infectious diseases block, which was built hurriedly in 1919 to cope with the Influenza epidemic, before being pulled down in August 1937.

Planned in 1936, Newcombe Ward cost £13,646 to build and had 33 beds, arranged in two eight-bed rooms, two four-bed rooms, two two-bed rooms and four single rooms. Because the ward was used for a variety of infectious diseases, four bathrooms and four toilets were provided for each wing.

From the late 1940s to early 1960s, Newcombe Ward became a Polio ward in response to the Poliomyelitis epidemic. Because the first Polio vaccines were still some years away, the only treatment option was an iron lung. These machines cost around £1000 at the time, and few hospitals could afford them. Viscount Nuffield built and donated over 5000 iron lungs to Commonwealth hospitals - two of those were presented to Wanganui Hospital.

By the mid-1960s, infectious diseases were declining, so while part of Newcombe Ward remained an isolation unit, the remainder of the ward was used for frail, elderly patients and the Women’s Medical Ward.

If an expectant mother had an infectious disease, she delivered her baby in Newcombe Ward. In the 1970s, when McKenny Ward was demolished to make way for the new Clinical Services Block, their Tuberculosis patients were relocated to Newcombe Ward.

In 1986, the Geriatric Assessment & Rehabilitation Day Unit was established in the building. This operated until 1990, when Newcombe Ward closed for refurbishment before re-opening the following year as the Community Mental Health Service.

Now known as Te Kopae, Newcombe Ward is home to the Community Mental Health & Addictions Services where staff work alongside service users/tangata whaiora to educate them and support their recovery. This may include providing information on medication, illnesses, community living and options, as well as liaising with other services like their GP and/or a community agency.

To mark the centenary, WDHB staff will unveil a display board in the foyer of Te Kopae which sets out Newcombe Ward’s history.