As Bendigo prepares for the opening of its new hospital next year, it is timely to unravel its intriguing past.
Nanjing Night Net

With a proud, 160-year history, the hospital has been a cornerstone of the community.

However, historically, it has been an unusual institution.

An intriguing element of its story is a dramatic rise in the rate of surgical operations completed during the 1890s.

Performing fewer than 100 operations a year prior to 1893, the hospital’s resident and honorary surgeons suddenly increased the rate to 224 operations a year in 1895.

Many of the operations were amputations, hernia repairs, removals of hydatid cysts and tumour excisions.

Clearly the service was required. But why did the hospital suddenly increase its surgical intake in 1893 so dramatically?

The increase likely relates to an abrupt change inmedical management at the time – a long-held stance which put Bendigo’s hospital at odds with most major hospitals throughout Australia and Britain.

The norm was for large, charitable hospitals to allow their honorary doctors – that is, qualified but unpaid doctors not on staff– to control their medical facilities, including wards and operating rooms.

In contrast, for most of its life, Bendigo Hospital steadfastly refused to relinquish control to its honoraries.

For many years,the honoraries felt disrespected by the hospital’s policy.

An honorary position at a major hospital was a perk for medical practitioners – it gave them prestige and access to a rich collection of interesting cases.

Typically, they were granted authority over the wards and patients in exchange for their services.

Not so at Bendigo, where the lay committee of management gave sole authority of their wards and patients to its salaried resident surgeons.

With Bendigo’s committee holding firm to its policy, it is possible the honorary doctors of the late 19th century retaliated by boycotting surgery at the hospital, a move that would account for the low rate of surgery prior to 1893.

In 1892, under financial pressure, the hospital finally agreed to conduct an “honorary trial”which handed control to the unpaid honorary doctors.

After averaging just one operation for every 18 admissions from 1875-92, the hospital suddenly experienced a surgical boom,performing up to one operation for every three admissions during the trial years.

After six years, the hospital abruptly stripped the honoraries of their authority and refused to allow them control again for another 30 years.

The problem, it was suggested at the time, was that the honoraries were performing too much surgery.

These events say something not only about the hospital’s management, but medical practice in regional centres such as Bendigo in the 19th century.

It is only through careful investigation, based on the historical records available today, that we can solve these mysteries and shed light on a proud institution so many of Bendigo’s locals love and respect.

If you can provide historical documents that might help in this research – in particular, casebooks and correspondence from the private practices of Bendigo’s doctors during the 1890s – please [email protected]论坛

Brett Wright is a PhD candidate at La Trobe University.This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.


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