Intended for healthcare professionals


From hysterick disorders to biomedical research

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 15 May 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:1056
  1. Bryan Christie
  1. Edinburgh

    Hospital corridors that once echoed to the footsteps of medical luminaries such as Joseph Lister and James Simpson fell silent for the final time last week. The 124 year old Edinburgh Royal Infirmary closed its doors, as the last of its medical services moved to a new £184m ($295m; €260m) hospital on a greenfield site to the south of the city.

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    The closure of the historic building is being marked by an exhibition at Edinburgh University Library that celebrates the hospital's heritage. The exhibits include an original 19 page letter from Florence Nightingale urging nurses at the Royal Infirmary to keep their wards “clean and wholesome,” an early example of an electrocardiogram, and some of the first reports of treatment with a new drug called penicillin. They also include early photographs of the wards (below).

    A list of patients admitted during the hospital's first years shows that reasons for admission included hysterick disorders, bloody flux, tertian ague, and melancholy.

    Meanwhile the replacement hospital, built under the private finance initiative, continues to prove controversial. A report in the BMJ last month (26 April, pp 905-8) found that the initiative had led to an overall reduction in bed numbers and capacity constraints across all acute specialties.

    The new hospital (pictured right) has its supporters, however. Edinburgh University's former professor of surgery, David Carter, who is now vice principal of Edinburgh University, said plans were first discussed in the 1960s to build a replacement for the infirmary, but nothing happened until the private finance initiative was proposed in the 1990s. He said the best that could have been hoped for with-out the initiative was a phased building programme over many years.

    The hospital includes a new medical school, which will be augmented by a £47m research institute employing around 1000 scientists. “There is going to be a real concentration of biomedical research next to a premier teaching hospital,” Professor Carter said. “There is a real excitement about the potential of this development.”