Royal Prince Alfred Hospital

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The first action to establish the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital[1] took place on 20 March 1868, when a public meeting which took place in the Exchange Building on the corner of Pitt and Bridge Streets passed the following two resolutions:

'That this meeting regards with the deepest interest the steady progress of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh toward recovery from the dangerous wound inflicted by an assassin during his sojourn in Sydney, and determines that a substantial and permanent monument shall be erected in commemoration of the heartfelt gratitude of the inhabitants of New South Wales, for the preservation of His Royal Highness.'

'That this meeting is of the opinion that the form of memorial most appropriate to the object in view, and best calculated to represent the feelings of the community, will be a hospital for the relief of the sick and the maimed, possessing all modern appliances necessary for the effective treatment of disease and comfort of the inmates, including a ward for convalescents until suitable accommodation is provided for such.'

A committee was formed to give effect to these resolutions and, following a somewhat protracted period involving complex negotiations and sometimes controversial argument much of which has its parallel in modern times, a site of approximately eleven acres was selected within the boundaries of land set aside for the purposes of the University of Sydney. Building commenced in 1876 and the Hospital then comprising 146 beds was opened for the reception of patients on 25 September 1882.

Almost from the beginning it was envisaged the Hospital would be a teaching hospital. On 10 July 1871 the Registrar of the University wrote to the Committee informing it of the following resolution of the Senate:

'That the hospital shall be of a general character, and that it shall be open to the University to establish a medical school in connection with the hospital, and that all plans, elevations and designs for the buildings and for laying out the grounds in connection therewith shall be submitted for the approval of the Senate, and that proper provision shall be made for the sewerage of the hospital.'

The Committee readily accepted this offer.

Since 1882 the Hospital has grown from its original 146 beds and eleven acres to a complex of almost 1,200 beds and eighteen hectares (forty-four acres). It serves not only as a teaching hospital but as a major referral centre and a community hospital. Thus it more than adequately carries out its main functions as established in its statement of objectives:

a) To establish and maintain hospital facilities in accordance with the provisions of the Prince Alfred Hospital Act 1902 and the Public Hospitals Act No. 8 of 1929 as amended.

b) To provide and promote the provision of health care on a comprehensive basis to the community surrounding the Hospital.

c) To provide for specialised medical and surgical care on a regional basis within regions as determined by the Health Commission of New South Wales.

d) To provide for specialised medical and surgical care for all patients referred to it from within the State of New South Wales and beyond in fields of special expertise.

e) To function as a teaching hospital in conjunction with the University of Sydney.

f) In conjunction with the University of Sydney to provide for undergraduate teaching in Medicine for students of the University of Sydney.

g) To promote close co-operation with the University of Sydney and to evolve common medical staffing patterns.

h) To provide for teaching in the discipline of nursing and other disciplines, in conjunction with universities and other tertiary education institutions where appropriate.

i) To provide for postgraduate education in medicine and other disciplines, in conjunction with universities and other tertiary education institutions where appropriate.

j) To promote and undertake research in medicine and related fields.

k) To co-operate with other hospitals in providing and improving medical services to the community and in assisting in the achievement of the above objects.

The three men who have been most responsible for the Hospital's development were Sir Alfred Roberts, Sir Thomas Anderson Stuart and Sir Herbert Schlink.

Sir Alfred Roberts was a member of the original committee and was elected as its joint Honorary Secretary. He remained as Honorary Secretary until 1897. He was greatly involved in the detailed planning of the original building and it was said of him that not even a nail could be driven without his authority.

Sir Thomas Anderson Stuart was not only the founder of the Medical School of the University of Sydney, but a member of the Board since his appointment to the University in 1883. He found time by 1901 to accept the Office of Chairman of the Board, a position which he held until 1920. By that time the association between the University and the Hospital had been firmly established.

Sir Herbert Schlink was a member of the Board of Directors from 1925 to 1962 and its Chairman from 1934 to 1962. He presided over the period of the Hospital's expansion and ensured that the Hospital retained its leadership role.

One of the most notable of the developments which occurred under Schlink's Chairmanship of the Board was the building of the King George V Memorial Hospital for Mothers and Babies, a teaching hospital for obstetrics and gynaecology. As long ago as 1909 the Board of Directors planned to use part of the newly completed Victoria Pavilion for midwifery cases needing surgical attention. This was not done, and thus occurred the anomaly of a University Teaching Hospital without obstetric beds for the nearby University's Professor of Obstetrics to use in teaching. A strong case for the building of an obstetric hospital was prepared in 1935, and arguments were marshalled. Despite some opposition, funds were raised and the building was successfully completed in 1941. It is of interest to note that it had cost £310,000, i.e. £8,000 below the estimates, and it was equipped for £45,000 — a sum raised by the Ladies' Auxiliary. Since its completion, it has served as an obstetric teaching hospital for the Faculty.

Since the earliest days when the Hospital opened its doors to the small group of medical students who started in the new School when it opened a century ago, Prince Alfred has continued to play a central role in the clinical training of undergraduates. In this, the centenary year, the Hospital will be taking eighty-six third-year students for clinical instruction.

The links with the Medical School remain strong to the mutual benefit of both. It is a relationship that many visitors from other countries find difficult to comprehend, based as it is on close co-operation and joint appointments. In the mid nineteen-fifties there were three full-time clinical Professors attached to the Hospital. Today there are fourteen. The future of the Hospital depends upon this close integration of University staff and Hospital full-time and visiting staff. There is no reason to believe that the future is not bright.

Author: Donald Child

Publication details: Child, D. "Royal Prince Alfred Hospital" in Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney, 2008.