HEALTH: New museum highlights Royal Infirmary’s pioneers in medicine

By Lucy Ashton

From Joseph Lister pioneering antiseptic treatment, to the first patient x-rays, Glasgow Royal Infirmary has changed the course of medicine and looked after generations of Scots since it opened in 1794.

Now, a museum within the hospital is set to encapsulate the rich heritage and history of an iconic institution.

The museum, which is located in the medical block in Castle Street, Townhead, is set to open at the end of May.

The project has been led by Friends of Glasgow Royal Infirmary, a charity dedicated to preserving and celebrating the hospital’s legacy, with support from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and the board’s Endowment Fund.

John Stuart, former Chief Nurse at the GRI, and one of the charity’s trustees, said: “Some of the most senior players in the history of healthcare have come through this institution and I think it’s important that we recognise them and preserve the great history associated with the GRI.

“The Royal Infirmary is a legendary institution in the east end of Glasgow, and has a special place in the hearts of many a Glaswegian. It’s been at the centre of innovation and clinical practice over the years.”

The first exhibition will feature several medical pioneers, such as Lister, who revolutionised modern surgery with the introduction of antisepsis in 1865 – when a 12-year-old boy, James Greenlees, whose leg was badly broken after being run over by a cart, became the first patient to have his surgical wound washed and dressed with carbolic acid, allowing an infection-free recovery. Other key figures include William Macewen pioneer of brain surgery, Rebecca Strong the first matron and John Macintyre electrician turned physician who set up the world’s first radiology unit in 1885,

Examples of the items on display include photographs of GRI buildings, a portrait of Joseph Lister, correspondence from the nurses and X ray tubes associated with the development of the world’s first x-ray department. The space will also be used for staff gatherings, such as retirements and celebrations linked to the annual International Nurses’ Day events.

The trustees of FOGRI thanked NHSGGC, the hospital’s estates and site management team and the Endowment Fund for all their support, as well as everyone who sponsored a GRI bee and bought ‘Royal Honey’ from their on-site beehives. The charity’s efforts have raised funds to help to bring the museum to life and to fund future projects within the museum and surrounding green areas of GRI.

Professor Tom Steele, Director of Estates and Facilities at NHSGGC, said: “We’re thrilled to be able to provide the space and support to preserve and celebrate the incredible history of Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary.

“Our hospitals are more just places where people come in their time of need, they are a pillar of our communities and, as Glasgow’s oldest hospital, the Royal’s connection with the city and its place as a pioneer in medical history, is unparalleled. I can’t wait to see the finished museum.”

John, added: “There is no better environment to practice as a nurse than the Royal Infirmary – there’s a great sense of community spirit and camaraderie and people really do feel part of a family, from the porters on the ground right through to the consultants. People feel part of the history when they come here and work hard to care for the people of the West of Scotland.”

Pictured: John Stuart with some of the new exhibits.

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