In the late 18th century and early 19th century, the industrial city of Birmingham was expanding rapidly and the population suffered considerable medical and social problems. The General Hospital, Birmingham, which was established in 1766 took care of patients with medical and surgical problems, and a dispensary provided medicines, vaccinations and looked after expectant mothers.
In this expanding city, there was no provision for people with bodily deformities caused by bone and joint problems. On 17th June 1817, a Committee chaired by the Earl of Dartmouth was established to provide a “general institution for the relief of persons labouring under bodily deformity”. The first surgeon at the new hospital was Mr. Freer, whose portrait hangs in the present Board Room.
From the earliest days of the organisation, it received a lot of support from local people. The institution in its early years had a variety of premises. In 1877 it moved to a new hospital in Newhall Street. In 1888, a new wing was added to the Hospital, with the help of a donation from Queen Victoria, who allowed the Institution to call itself the Royal Orthopaedic and Spinal Hospital.
In 1891, the Hospital started to receive medical students from the Birmingham Medical School and there were some technical advances, such as the first use of x rays in 1898. At the same time as the Royal Orthopaedic and Spinal Hospital was developing in Newhall Street, the Birmingham Cripples Union in Hurst Street was looking after children with Polio, Tuberculosis of bones and joints and spinal problems. In 1907, Mr. George Cadbury gave a house and land known as The Woodlands in Northfield to the Crippled Children’s Union. In 1925, the Royal Orthopaedic and Spinal Hospital and the Birmingham Cripples Union amalgamated and King George V approved the title “The Royal Cripples Hospital, Birmingham” being bestowed upon the Hospital. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, the Hospital was able to invest in outpatient facilities at Broad Street, inpatient facilities at the Woodlands and other convalescent facilities.
At this time there were 4 surgeons undertaking regular operating lists, the most famous of which was Mr. Naughton Dunn. Mr. Dunn was taught by the famous orthopaedic surgeon, Sir Robert Jones, and he helped to provide orthopaedic treatment during the first World War. He is famous for developing a method of fusing paralysed feet, which was used all over the world for many years afterwards. The annual reports of the Hospital at this time show interesting snippets of information which predict the concerns that we still have in the 21st century.
In 1932, the Hospital was visited by Sir George Newman, Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health, who described the organisation as “not a government department managed from Whitehall, but a triumphant achievement of the co-operation between voluntary and state action”.
In March 1933, there was reported to be a 50% reduction in the waiting list, and in 1938, there was reported to be a significant reduction in length of stay. The story of the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in the days of the NHS after 1948 is one of great technical and academic advances, with high standards being set in nursing and physiotherapy. Great importance was placed on the training of nurses and physiotherapists. Among the many individuals who advanced orthopaedic surgery. Francis Allen (spinal deformity surgery), Rodney Sneath (bone tumour surgery) and Derek McMinn (metal on metal hip resurfacing) should be mentioned.
Between 1950 and 1970, the Hospital had modest investments in 2 new operating theatres and a ward block, but it was only managed as part of larger organisations, and it was starved of the investment required to deliver the huge amounts of extra activity caused by the expansion of orthopaedic surgery in areas such as joint replacement and arthroscopic surgery. In the late 1980’s, the Hospital reached a low point in its development, and in the early 1990’s it was threatened with closure.