Skip to Content

Red Cross Children's Hospital

Although the establishment of the Children’s Hospital Trust took place in 1994, its roots reach back several decades and are inextricably linked to the early stages of the establishment of the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

A Place of Healing

The concept of a children’s hospital in Cape Town was first mooted towards the end of the Second World War, when South African servicemen awaiting demobilization in Italy considered what could best serve as a living memorial to their fallen compatriots. The idea of a hospital – a place of healing – captured people’s imaginations and gained popularity.  Many of the servicemen gave two days’ of their pay towards this ideal and these funds were held in trust by the South African Red Cross Society who began to champion its establishment. At a Red Cross Society Cape Region’s annual general meeting in May 1945, it was suggested by Mr Vyvyan Watson that a children’s hospital be built as a Red Cross War Memorial – to honour the service of all South Africans who contributed to the Allied victory.

While the initial notion was to have a referral hospital that could accommodate several hundred patients, escalating building costs restricted the plans to a 176 bed hospital. Allowance was made to double this capacity at a later stage.

It was agreed that the Cape Red Cross Society would contribute half of the building cost – then pegged at £400 000 – and that the Provincial Administration would contribute the balance and take responsibility for the Hospital’s maintenance on completion. However by the time its current site was secured in 1950, building costs had escalated still further – rocketing to £700 000 (R1.6millon).

It was then that the first public appeal was launched under the auspices of the Red Cross Society and the response from the Cape Town public was extraordinarily generous with donations worth approximately  £207 000 (R476 000) collected. Building began late in 1953 and the Hospital officially opened its doors in June 1956.

A World-Class Facility

From these relatively humble origins the Hospital has gone on to establish an international reputation for excellence in paediatric healthcare – offering a comprehensive range of specialist services to children from South Africa and from the rest of Africa, and treating children of all races throughout the decades of apartheid.

Serving as one of the University of Cape Town Health Sciences Faculty’s academic teaching hospitals, it is considered South Africa’s leading centre for postgraduate specialist paediatric medical and surgical training for both doctors and nurses, and is the only dedicated children’s hospital in sub-Saharan Africa. Over the years the Hospital’s staff have been actively involved in paediatric outreach and support programmes throughout South Africa, with many contributing to the advancement of paediatric medicine through their research endeavours, with some being considered world leaders in their field.

An Overwhelming Need

Despite the world-class level of treatment and care guaranteed at the Hospital, the region’s ever-increasing population in the last century created growing pressure on the Hospital’s resources from its outset. This pressure was exacerbated by far-reaching problems in the country’s primary healthcare system due to the government’s failure to address primary healthcare issues.

As the Hospital had been conceived as a referral hospital, it was never envisioned that there would be such huge numbers of outpatients – as the belief was that sick children’s first point of call would be primary health clinics. The reality was somewhat different.

It was the enormous rise in outpatients — at times 1 000 per day — that finally led to the recognition that the Hospital urgently needed to be extended. In 1989 plans were drawn up for extensions to Groote Schuur Hospital and the Children’s Hospital, with a R30million construction budget being announced for the latter. However, it soon became apparent that Groote Schuur Hospital would cost several times more than originally estimated and Province’s plans for the Children’s Hospital were put on hold indefinitely.

As outpatient numbers continued to increase, the Hospital’s overcrowded prefabricated outpatient facility was clearly a sub-standard structure that impeded the ability of staff to deliver world-class treatment to their patients.

The Spirit of Generosity

The generosity of corporations, community organisations and ordinary Capetonians was to be echoed almost half a century after the Hospital’s opening when massively curtailed government health budgets threatened the its survival in the 1990s. A group of doctors and other interested individuals came together and, thanks to a generous bequest endowment, founded the Children’s Hospital Trust to fundraise for the Hospital and ensure its survival.

Since 1994 the Trust has been assisting the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital with its funding needs and 100% of all donations go directly to priority projects, keeping the Hospital at the cutting edge of international standards of excellence in paediatric healthcare.