News posted 23 October, 2022

Manchester Royal Infirmary celebrates 270 years of healthcare excellence

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Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) celebrates a very special anniversary today – 270 years since staff discharged the very first patient on 23 October, 1752.

Chief Executive Vanessa Gardener and Medical Director Dr Leonard Ebah, joined Kathy Cowell OBE DL, Chairman of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT), which is responsible for the hospital, to mark the date.

From having just 12 beds initially, MRI now has 770 beds, treats around 750,000 patients annually and sees approximately 160,000 Emergency Department attendances per year.

In addition to hosting a Major Trauma Centre, it is a regional and national centre for services as diverse as kidney and pancreas transplants, haematology, vascular, major trauma, liver and pancreas surgery, rheumatology and HIV care.

Kathy Cowell, MFT Chairman said: “MRI’s incredibly rich history tells the story of the development of modern hospital healthcare in Britain. The hospital continues to grow in its development, with its £40 million project to re-develop the Emergency Department and add more theatres now well under way.”

Vanessa Gardener, Chief Executive of MRI, said: “Our staff today are using equipment each day which would have seemed like a fantasy to those who started the hospital nearly three centuries ago. However, everyone working at MRI through the years share one thing – the commitment which they have shown to their patients.”

Dr Leonard Ebah, Medical Director, for MRI added: “Generations of doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and support staff have helped to make what we have here today. Our successes in the 21st Century, when we have not just regional but national and international work going on here in Manchester, are built on the achievements of those who have come before us. It is easy to focus on buildings when we discuss anniversaries, but we are actually saying a heart-felt ‘thank you’ to the generations of staff who have worked at MRI.”

More information:

A range of information about MRI can be found here.

‘Portrait of a Hospital’ by William Brockbank – published in 1952 – details a number of key points from MRI’s history. Minutes of the hospital Board meeting recorded that the first patient, with respiratory issues, was “discharged, cured” on 23 October 1752.

  1. A hospital which is always evolving

The first hospital opened in a converted house in Garden Street, by Withy Grove. New premises, much larger, opened in 1755 in what is now Piccadilly Gardens. The hospital eventually moved to its Oxford Road location and was officially opened by King Edward V11 on 6 July 1909, with it adding the title “Royal” in 1933. That building is now called Cobbett House, and is the HQ for the Manchester University NHS FT. That building closed in 2009, replaced by the current Manchester Royal Infirmary building. HM The Queen officially opened its new wing during her Platinum Jubilee in 2012. The £40 million Emergency Department and theatres project saw the main entrance changed in May 2012. The project improvements will include a more streamlined layout in the Emergency Department, increased capacity, and the creation of six new operating theatres, which will support the MRI’s role as a regional specialist surgical centre.

  1. Living longer

When Manchester Royal Infirmary first opened, life expectancy was less than 39 years. The first patients in 1752 were likely to have had conditions like influenza, strained joints and broken bones. In modern days, people are now living into their 80s and beyond – men average 76.4 years while women at 80.3 years.

  1. A doctor of letters

By 1805, doctor Peter Mark Roget was working at the MRI for three years in his mid to late 20s, and is said to have remarked that the same words were being used and repeated too often in the medical world. He was a writer and known by colleagues for being a useful wordsmith. The physician is believed to have developed his ideas for a wider vocabulary while walking across the balcony at the ‘Old Doctors’ Residence’. As a result, Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases was eventually introduced. In addition, he invented the Slide-rule in 1814.

  1. The bell that did not ring

By August 1939 there were 440 beds in the hospital. During World War II the building was bombed and damaged. The bell in the clock tower fell to the ground and has since been located in the main foyer.

Prior to this, the bell had caused some controversy in 1902, when Mr Arthur R. Scott wrote to the Manchester Guardian, complaining about the clock bell keeping him awake in a local hotel – at 2am, 3am, 4am and 6am. He suggested “simply taking 12 cogs off the 24 hours’ striking wheel, and so rendering the clock dumb between 9pm and 9am.”

In a response, W. L. Saunder, General Superintendent, wrote to the paper explaining: “It will perhaps surprise Mr Scott to hear that the clock in question does not strike the hours between 7pm and 8am and, further, that this arrangement has been in existence for a period of nearly six years!”