Bilga General Hospital can trace its origins back to a meeting in the village held on 28 December 1997, when Dr Jagjit Sanghera, a native of Bilga, but by now a Birmingham General Practitioner, called a meeting to discuss the possibilities of building and opening a hospital to serve the village’s needs. There was already a very poor public hospital in the village, built by the Indian Medical Service of the British Raj in the 1930s, but it had long outlived its usefulness and a modern and clean hospital was desperately needed.

From the foundations laid at that meeting, other villagers and NRIs in Birmingham and the Midlands who came from Bilga were recruited and this led to the inaugural meeting of the Bilga General Hospital Charitable Trust (BGHCT) in April of the following year, in order to raise funds and build the dreamt-of hospital. The project was given a huge boost in the following two years, firstly with the generous donation of the land on which the hospital now stands by the Comrade Kartar Singh Memorial Trust and the granting of the BGHCT of charitable status in the UK. The money now started to come in with both large and small donations, the foundation stone was laid in April 2000 and the building contract awarded to Ganga Contractors and Projects of New Delhi. By March 2002, two ground-floor wings had been completed and by the end of April, the central block structures were ready.

After much more building work and the laying-out of the grounds by Dr Jaswinder Singh, the hospital was opened on 31 March 2005 and started work. It was to provide primary and second care for Bilga and forty-four villages and small towns in the surrounding area on the north bank the River Sutlej. It started out providing a twenty-four hour accident and emergency service, a diagnostic centre, operating theatres, an eye department, maternity and child care facilities, a mortuary service, as well as access to tertiary care in Jalandhar and Ludhiana. Over the years, the hospital would grow and provide more and better facilities.

The mission of BGHCT from the moment of its foundation was to establish effective primary and secondary care for the people of Bilga and its surrounding area and also to develop other areas of activity which included health education, preventative medicine, on the basis of need and not of gender, creed, race, nationality of political conviction. Since the hospital was opened, the BGHCT through its Executive Committee has continued actively to raise funds to make the hospital a daily reality and there are many memories of annual fundraising functions held throughout Birmingham and other places in the Midlands. The hospital was then and remains a great success and a beacon of healthcare in the area.

One of the problems that faced the hospital since its opening was its management. The BGHCT Executive Committee members mostly lived in the Midlands of England and although an Indian Trust was established to manage the hospital, of the seven members, only two regularly resided locally. A number of ways of managing the hospital were considered and in the end, a Board of Governors was established under the chairmanship of Professor Robert Arnott, an experienced medical academic and NHS Manager who led a team comprised of professionals in the field who originated both in India and the UK. The Board of Governors was in office for three years and put some structure into the management. When their task was finished, they proposed a radical alternative, which was readily supported by the BGHCT.

It was now believed that the hospital would only prosper with the establishment of local professional management, which meant by a larger and experienced institution in the area. Professor Robert Arnott and the BGHCT officers supported by an old friend of the hospital, Dr S S Johl, a former Vice-Chancellor of the Punjab Agricultural University, began to evaluate the possibility. A number of options were available, that is the hospital being managed by the Punjab Institute for Medical Sciences in Jalandhar or the DMC in Ludhiana; but in the end we decided to approach the Christian Medical College and Hospital in Ludhiana, part of the Baba Farid University of Health, as their mission, practice and charitable profile was the closest to that of the BGHCT. They also had a huge international reputation.

The Christian Medical College (CMC) was the first medical school for women in Asia and was founded by Dr Edith Mary Brown (later Dame Edith Brown DBE) in 1894, when the North Indian School of Medicine for Christian Women was first opened, with the object of training Indian nationals, particularly the women, to serve in the field of medical education and health care services, emphasising integration of training and health care services. The earlier period of the hospital from its foundation to 1952, saw the development from its beginning as a School of Medicine for Christian Women to Women's Christian Medical College. In 1952 the name was changed the CMC to enable it to admit both men and women for the upgraded MBBS degree programme which came into effect for its first admission from 1953. Since then, thousands of students have graduated and are serving in India and the world. Today it also has thriving Dental, Nursing and Physiotherapy Colleges and now an Institute of Allied Health, to train for the professions allied to medicine.

Today the CMC has not only a local, but a national and international reputation in healthcare. The hospital treats thousands of patients every day and the patients of Bilga General Hospital are safe in their hands.

The negotiations for the CMC to take over the management and day-to-day running of the hospital and its estate took a little time, but the historical agreement was signed on 8 April 2015 and CMC took over on 1 May. Their intention is to develop the hospital and serve the local population, but also to specialise in obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics and cancer diagnosis and treatment and introduce into the village the training of doctors and nurses. We are also looking forward to a great expansion of the volunteer programme of medical professionals from the UK spending some time in India, as happened in Bilga General Hospital since it opened.

The buildings remain the property of the BGHCT and the charity will remain in being as a sort of “League of Friends” to fundraise for them and give whatever support it can to the management through a Joint Management Committee. It is also proposing to work with the UK Friends of the CMC Ludhiana. Bilga General Hospital has entered a new era. For a village such as Bilga to have a campus of a major Indian Medical School is quite an achievement and the medical care of those its serves is secure for decades to come.

Since that eventual day in 1997, when it all started and the dream was launched, many have played an important part in building and developing the hospital. Some are no longer with us and we must not forget the role played by members of the Executive Committee, Trustees, the Board of Governors and the local committee. They and others and of course all the Life Members of the Trust that worked with them, turned a dream into a reality.

(Registered Charity Number 1075871)
Patrons of Bilga General Hospital
The Late Gian Singh Sanghera
Ramesh Lal Mehan
The Late Smt Surinder Kaur Shergill
We all remain grateful to that group of visionaries from the Bilga General Hospital Charitable Trust (UK), who worked tirelessly over many years to see the hospital built and witnessed the beginnings of effective primary and secondary healthcare to the poor and needy of the village of Bilga and the surrounding villages. Without them and their boundless hard work, nothing would have been achieved.
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