Friday, 2 March 2012

The Western General Hospital

The Western General Hospital on Crewe Road South, Edinburgh, has its origins in a poorhouse established in the parish of St Cuthbert’s in 1761. In 1863 the City’s Medical Officer, Henry Littlejohn, ordered improvements to be made in response to insanitary conditions, and in 1868 the Craigleith Hospital and Poorhouse opened. This served the needs of the parish’s paupers until 1914 when it was taken over by the Army.

During the First World War Craigleith was used as a hospital for military casualties. An edition of the ‘Craigleith Chronicle’ from this period has been digitised and can be read online, please click here.

The Western General Hospital as Craigleith Hospital, c.1914

In 1929 the Local Government (Scotland) Act was passed, which empowered local authorities to upgrade the former poorlaw hospitals like the Craigleith and make them available to the general public. Upon improvement to a municipal hospital, Craigleith changed its name to the Western General Hospital.

During the Second World War many members of the Polish army found their way to Britain. Among them were some medical specialists from Polish medical schools, and a number of medical students. On 24 February 1941 the President of the Polish Republic, then in exile in London, issued a decree officially instituting the Polish School of Medicine at Edinburgh, and on the same day Edinburgh University signed an agreement with the exiled Polish government. Part of the Western General, with 120 beds, was set apart as the Polish, or "Paderewski", Hospital. The last students from it graduated in 1949.

The Hospital passed to the NHS in 1948, and it is known today for specialist clinical units as well as more general treatment. It is currently home to regional centres for cancer and clinical neuroscience, the Regional Infectious Diseases Unit and the Minor Injuries Clinic.

Lothian Health Services Archive holds a wide range of material relating to the administrative and clinical history of the Western General dating from 1930 to 2010, including the ‘Paderewski time capsule’, an exciting discovery made during building works to the Hospital site in 2010. For more information please see the online catalogue or contact us on lhsa@ed.ac.uk.

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