Hastings and the NHS

With the 70th anniversary of National Health Service this month

It got us thinking about what Worcestershire’s medical hero, Sir Charles Hastings, might think. Worcester is home to two exhibitions of medical history, the George Marshall Medical Museum and The Infirmary.

The story of Worcester’s importance in the advances of medical treatments is linked to Hastings and his tireless work for the county’s population. He is known for shunning lucrative job offers and devoting his entire career to Worcestershire, even although he was born just over the border in Ludlow!

Born in 1794, Hastings was a man of many talents who lived during the expansion of Worcester, he died in 1866. In his life he witnessed the introduction of railways and Worcester’s sewage system, the coronation of Queen Victoria and – medically speaking – the invention of the stethoscope and anaesthetics which revolutionised the diagnosis and treatment of patients’ illness. Hastings was appointed as House Surgeon at aged 18 for which he would have taken on an incredible amount of responsibility as he would visit each patient daily to assess their ailments and send for the physician or surgeon as needed. The doctors were not resident to the building and only visited once a fortnight unless there was further requests. As House Surgeon Hastings was the designated apothecary and would make up and dispense remedies, poultices or even apply leeches to the patient based on a physician’s notes.

Hastings enjoyed the job so much he wanted to qualify as a physician and attended Edinburgh Medical School. He soon returned to Worcester as the honorary physician – with a little embarrassing help from his mother’s letter to the Worcester News – and completed a total of 46 years at Worcester Infirmary.

Hastings’ curiosity, innovative thinking and desire to understand patients and their illnesses better contributed to his energy to help establish the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association in Worcester in 1832. An organisation of paying doctors from across the country, they began to publish a regular journal containing their discoveries for new techniques to treat illnesses and it was also a place to share thoughts, ideas and communicate with like-minded individuals. The PMSA grew in popularity to over 1000 doctors within 20 years and was renamed the British Medical Association, an organisation still putting knowledge and patient care first today through their work as a trade union for doctors.

The success of the Association and public events which Hastings attended meant he came to the notice of the Court of Queen Victoria. He was invited by the Court to sit on a new public body which was set-up after the 1858 Medical Act on which Hastings had advised. The General Medical Council was established to maintain standards and make sure those claiming to be a doctor, were trained and qualified to do the job. In the mid-1800s there were many ‘quack’ doctors around selling their ‘river-water potions’ to people who could not afford a consultation with a real doctor. The GMC and BMA were significant milestones in medical history influenced by Hastings which ensured medical knowledge was being shared widely to benefit patients, doctors and the country alike.

The next big shift in the medical world was the founding of National Health Service in 1948. This was of course long after Hastings’ life, but the impact of the GMC ensured medically-trained professionals became accountable for their treatments. The subscription model of medicine familiar to Hastings was replaced with free healthcare for all. As someone who devoted significant personal time to civic matters as City Alderman and Deputy Lord Lieutenant while also contributing much to establish a Worcester Museum and other Societies we think the NHS birthday is something Hastings would have been very pleased to shout about.

You can find out more about Hastings at The Infirmary Museum and George Marshall Medical Museums, details at www.medicalmuseum.org.uk  

Find out more about The Infirmary Museum