Leicester General Hospital – From Poor Law to High Technology Specialist Hospital
The history of Evington’s hospital is a story of change and development. In times of peace and war, prosperity and austerity the hospital has provided dedicated service to the people of Leicestershire.
Built as the North Evington Poor Law Infirmary, the ‘Palace on the Hill’ as it was known to the locals was opened in 1905. It was built on open land between Crown Hills and Evington Village and was surrounded by a six foot high spiked fence. There were nearly 600 inmates and staff. Electric lighting was installed in 1911 although gas was retained in case the electricity supply failed. Two wards were fitted with electric wall plugs. Padded cells were also provide for mentally deranged patients and a medical officer attended daily.
The infirmary housed the infirm poor and also patients with tuberculosis, pneumonia, and cancer and a substantial number of people, young and old, who were described at that time as ‘mentally defective, feeble minded or imbeciles’. For a short period in 1914 the hospital became known as the North Evington Infirmary.
The challenge of World War One loomed over the hospital in September 1914. The first casualties arrived in Leicester in May 1915 and were accommodated in various buildings in Leicester including what is now the Fielding Johnson Building at Leicester University. The enormity of this tragedy soon became clear and in March 1915 the hospital was taken over by the Royal Army medical Corps as a military hospital and renamed North Evington War Hospital. The demand was so great that the accommodation was increased from 512 to 1010 by putting beds in marquees with wooden floors in the grounds. When the NEWH was returned to the local authority in 1919, there had been 20,465 admissions, 7,808 operations and 574 deaths.
In 1918 the hospital again admitted civilian patients and nursing training was moved in from Hillcrest Hospital Sparkenhoe Street. In 1919 the hospital was renamed the North Evington Infirmary and in that year the nurse training school was established. Up to 1926, nurses were accommodated in the main building but a new nurses’ home was then opened on the site of the present number two car park. In 1930 the hospital had yet another change of name becoming the City General Hospital. It was around this time that signs of specialism began to increase at many hospitals such as CGH. For example, the new orthopaedic department was set up and benefitted from the experience of treating wounded soldiers in the Great War.
The Hospital School was opened in 1932. Sadly, some children would be in hospital for a considerable time, some missing many years of education, and this needed to be addressed. Poliomyelitis left crippling after-effects and there were no antibiotics to control tuberculosis and these children finally received at least a basic education.
In 1940 with the coming of war nursing staff were in high demand by the military both at home and abroad. Men had just been accepted for training and for the first time married female nurses were no longer barred from continuing to work, the situation was desperate and they were encouraged to continue in their profession. Support was given by Red Cross and St. John volunteers and members of the Civilian Nursing Reserve. As the war progressed the hospital dispensary was used as a secret storage and training centre for the use of the new wonder-drug Penicillin. Throughout the war service personnel continued to be treated at the hospital, but it was not taken over for exclusively military use.
The National Health Service was conceived in the dark days of the War and after years of discussion and planning, agreement was reached and it was set up in 1948. Millions of people were able to access proper healthcare for the first time. Technology was improving as was the amount of money provided by the state. By this time the hospital had been again renamed, this time as Leicester General Hospital. Not generally recognized as an Accident and Emergency hospital, by 1950 emergency cases were being accepted on every third day on a rota basis with Leicester Royal Infirmary.
Throughout the twentieth century there has been ongoing improvement in medical treatment. From about 1930 this was very noticeable at the hospital and led to specialization in all disciplines, diagnostic, medical and surgical.
There was near disaster in 1962 when a night-time fire almost totally destroyed the wooden dormitory in the nurses’ home but fortunately there were no injuries. Most of the nurses lost almost all their possessions but most were replaced through the generosity of the Leicester public, and the new replacement property was built the following year on part of the Coleman road car park.
Radio Gwendolen, the first hospital radio station in Leicester, was set up in a disused broom cupboard by two schoolteacher friends Ray Lovejoy and Bernard Smith in 1974 and it still broadcasts music, news and information 24 hours per day.
In 2000 LGH, Glenfield and The Royal Infirmary were merged to form the University Hospitals of Leicester Trust. With the three Leicester hospitals now being under one organizational control it was inevitable that some rationalization of services would take place and by 2015 LGH had lost some services but was majoring on renal services, orthopaedics, diabetes research, urology, maternity, brain injuries and treatment for the young disabled.
Professor Azhar Farooki OBE, City GP and chair of Leicester Clinical Commissioning Group explained why we need to see change:
‘Local health and social services are under increasing pressure because more people than ever before require our help. In part this should be welcomed because people are living longer as a result of the improvements in health and social care which have taken place over the last twenty years’.
An ageing population combined with a growing population, has led to a higher demand for services. At the same time more advanced treatments, drugs, and technology have led to escalating costs.
That is the long term and pressing challenge for the future.
(Based on ‘The Palace on the Hill’ a private publication by Dr E H Mackay)
Bramwell G Rudd