Friday, 14 October 2016

Revealing Rontgen records...

It’s been a busy time for donations to the archive. In this week’s blog, Louise highlights some of the best – and celebrates an important anniversary!

I’ve been out and about quite a bit over the last couple of weeks, collecting new material to add to collections. Our holdings come from two main sources: Lothian NHS hospitals (those on our catalogues with the prefix ‘LHB’) and healthcare-related material from other local organisations and individuals (represented by the prefix ‘GD’).  In the past few days, we’ve had some very interesting new material from the LHB variety!

On Wednesday, I paid a visit to radiology at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (RIE). We’d been contacted about some older books that had been kept in their library. After checking out the progress of the new Sick Kids’ building…
New developments for the RIE
 … I was delighted with what waited for me – a visitors book dating from the 1920s, plans for the ‘new’ radiology department that opened in the RIE site on Lauriston Place in 1926 and a ‘Record of Observations by means of Röntgen Rays’ from Edinburgh’s first radiology facilities (then the ‘Medical Electrical Department’):
Record of Observations by means of Röntgen Rays, 1898 - 1909 (Acc16/018)
‘Röntgen Rays’ are what we now think of as x-rays, discovered at the end of 1895 by William Conrad Röntgen. In Glasgow, Dr Macintyre opened Scotland's first radiology department in 1896. The RIE’s Medical Electrical Department followed fast on its heels (established by 1898), and the daybook of x-rays that we have just acquired records the examinations performed on its first patients. As you can see, the first entry was written exactly 118 years ago, on 14 October 1898! Conditions examined included everything from a needle in the foot to a bullet in the shoulder:
First page of volume, 1898 (Acc16/018)
The unnamed first patient was exposed to radiation for five minutes, highlighting how far we have come in medical imaging, and also how dangerous these early procedures had the potential to be. If you want to know more about the early history of radiology in the RIE (and the interesting outfits donned by its technicians), you can read about it here. By the 1920s, however, the Medical Electric Department was becoming unsuitable for the increasing demands placed on it, and the Infirmary’s managers planned for a new building, with unrivaled facilities for the time. 

Construction was complete by 1926. The 1925 plans that we have just acquired show the extent of the services on offer in colourful detail. This is the plan for the lecture theatre, complete with a large light box and individual viewing boxes:

Radiology Department plans, Watson & Sons, 1925 (Acc16/0018)
The new department attracted physicians from around the world, as demonstrated in the visitors’ book, documenting 60 years of professional associations:
Radiology Department Visitors' Book, 1925 - 1985 (Acc16/018)
Another significant recent donation came to us from the Western General Hospital’s Health Records Team. We received 35 registers from midwifery and accident and emergency services. They date from the 1960s to the 1990s:
Edinburgh Corporation Domiciliary Midwifery Service casebook, c. 1960s (Acc16/016)
The midwifery records provide detailed descriptions of cases from the 1960s, and accident and emergency procedure registers shed light on hospital admissions in our more recent history. These volumes will be closed to general public access for quite a few years, but – with special permission from NHS Lothian – they can help current academic researchers and individuals represented in the records fill gaps in collective and private histories. More recent records like this are not what everyone pictures when they think of an archive, but we need to keep our eyes firmly on the future as well as the past in this job, and we’re laying the foundations of research in years to come.

Hospitals need to develop all the time. Changing services, technical advances and the evolving needs of patients means that facilities never stand still and sometimes buildings need to change or relocate. An example of this was my visit to the closed Royal Victoria Hospital buildings on Craigleith Road. If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’ll associate the Royal Victoria Hospital with Edinburgh’s fight against tuberculosis. The plaques relocated to the reception area hark back to that time, after the hospital was opened in 1894 as part of the ‘Edinburgh Scheme’ of diagnosis, notification, isolation and treatment of tuberculosis patients:

Plaques built into the wall of the Royal Victoria Hospital reception area
The majority of the original hospital buildings (converted from a private house) had been found not fit for purpose by 1960 and were demolished in favour of more modern facilities. As cases of tuberculosis declined after the late 1950s, the site was also gradually re-purposed for geriatric medicine to meet a new acute need. This emphasis on geriatric services continued until the main hospital’s closure in the August 2012. 

I visited last week before the hospital is to be cleared completely later this year - but I'll be back. Even though I was there for some time, I only managed to cover half the wards! In this visit, I uncovered interesting material on NHS Lothian’s policies and procedures on care of the elderly, along with a collection of minutes.

Items from the Royal Victoria Hospital to be added to the archive, reflecting its role caring for the vulnerable elderly.
These ‘new’ (for us!) additions the archive coincide with our work with colleagues in NHS Lothian to ensure compliance with the Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011, a piece of legislation that requires public authorities to follow robust record-keeping practices – including an obligation to transfer historically significant records to the archive. In the coming months, we’ll be bringing you news of how LHSA and NHS Lothian are working together to ensure that researchers in hundreds of years’ time will not forget Edinburgh’s twenty-first century healthcare.

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