A brief history of healthcare provision in London


Voluntary hospitals began to be established in the early 18th century as charities to look after the sick poor (as distinct from the destitute poor who were cared for by the Poor Law institutions).  It was considered the province of charity to help the sick poor and thus prevent destitution.

Mainly philanthropic organisations, these hospitals were run by Boards of Governors made up of the local gentry.  Many had their origins in dispensaries, which provided elementary health care and were used by those who did not want or need to go to hospital, or who were unable to pay for private medical treatment but not so poor as to go to an infirmary.

Voluntary hospitals were largely dependent on moneys raised by charitable annual subscriptions (lists of subscribers were usually published in annual reports).  Regular subscribers were courted, but many hospitals also ran appeals for donations and publicity campaigns.  Financial crises were rife.

By 1938 London contained 146 voluntary hospitals.

Next section: General hospitals

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Barry G, Carruthers LA 2005  A History of Britain's Hospitals.  Sussex, Book Guild Publishing.

Black N 2006  Walking London's Medical History.  London, Royal Society of Medicine Press.

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