Specialist and voluntary hospitals

Experts in their field

The increase of medical specialism was a 19th-century phenomenon. There were a number of reasons for its development during this period. Firstly, there was a growing acceptance that hospitals needed to provide treatment for cases like pregnancy, child health, venereal disease, cancer and other incurable diseases. These types of conditions and illnesses were on the whole not treated in general hospitals. Some did have special wards but most people were left to find 'comfort' at home, or at the workhouse. A second factor in the rise of specialist hospitals was the belief that in order to advance scientific research and medical training places needed to be built where specific ailments could be studied on masse. Thirdly, many doctors recognised the opportunities for both economic and social advancement by specialising with many developing lucrative private practices.

Hackney had a number of specialist hospitals including the Mothers’ Hospital, the Royal Infirmary for Diseases of the Chest, the Eastern Fever and Smallpox Hospital, and the German and French Hospitals – set up for the needs of two specific immigrant groups. The Mothers’, opened in 1894, was a maternity hospital for unmarried women. Managed by the Salvation Army, a Christian charity, the Mothers’ provided a safer alternative for childbirth.  Many poor and unmarried women in Hackney would end up giving birth in the workhouse, as there was nowhere else to go. The German Hospital, founded in 1845, was set up to treat the large community of poor Germans in the borough at the time. It was noted for its unique nursing provision staffed by Protestant Deaconesses from the renowned Kaiserswerth Institute in Germany – a place visited by Florence Nightingale in 1850 and 1851 to receive training. Located on the site of the Homerton University Hospital the Eastern Fever and Smallpox Hospital, which was opened in 1869, was funded by the Metropolitan Asylums Board. This central body was set up to treat infectious diseases and insanity – the scourge of 19th century life. This hospital can be seen as an early precursor to a state-funded medical system akin to later National Health Service, which was set up in 1948.

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This page was added by Lisa Rigg on 27/03/2010.

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