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Pioneering TB and heart hospital marks centenary


A pioneering heart and lung hospital that began life as a First World War tuberculosis colony is celebrating its centenary as its prepares for a new chapter in its story.


Royal Papworth Hospital, centred on Papworth Hall, 13 miles outside Cambridge, UK, is celebrating 100 years since its opening.


On 12 February 1918, 17 patients arrived at Papworth, many discharged soldiers from the battlefields of France and Belgium. During the First World War cases of tuberculosis surged and the chronic infectious disease killed thousands of people each year. In 1915, more than 41,000 people died of TB in the UK.


The Cambridgeshire Tuberculosis Colony – as the hospital was then known – was Cambridgeshire TB officer Dr Pendrill Varrier-Jones’s experimental scheme, relocated to the village of Papworth Everard from nearby Bourn following a donation of £5,000 from a wealthy philanthropist.


The move to the Papworth Hall estate realised his vision for a long-term approach to solving what he called the ‘aftercare problem’. He developed the concept of an industrial colony to treat, house and employ patients and their families.


In the earliest news story on record about the colony – in The Cambridge Chronicle and University Journal – a journalist recounted: ‘I made my first acquaintance with a patient, an unfortunate who voluntarily enlisted at the outbreak of the war and had broken down in training with tuberculosis. His open-air bedroom looked almost cosy, although the thermometer [was] at freezing point.’


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Fresh air and light work were believed to be central to recovery, even in winter, and one of the early photographs shows TB patients’ beds pushed on to one of the hospital’s balconies.


Other early TB treatments were not so gentle and focused on collapsing the lung, with doctors believing that the diseased lobe would heal quicker by resting it. Sometimes the lung was collapsed using ping pong balls placed in a cavity under the ribs (plombage), and sometimes by removing ribs from the chest wall (thoracoplasty).


Expansion of the facility


In 1929 the colony was renamed the Papworth Village Settlement, and in 1948 the treatment blocks were passed to the National Health Service and the facility began to expand its services and develop expertise in other areas of chest medicine under the name Papworth Hospital. The hospital building itself continued to expand on the site around the hall.


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Former TB patient David Coles, 86, spent time convalescing in one of the iconic Papworth ‘TB huts’. ‘They were basically wooden boxes with a door and flaps,’ he said. ‘And they had the doors and the flaps open all day long – no matter what time of year. It was very cold and there was nothing to do unless you had your own wireless with you.’


Mr Coles was diagnosed with TB at the age of 19 during his National Service medical examination in 1948. After antibiotics cured the disease, he underwent lobectomy surgery at Papworth Hospital to treat the damage it had caused. The tops of both his lungs were removed in two separate operations, one in 1961 and the other in 1966.


‘They were a bit worried about the second operation. I saw the surgeon, Mr [Christopher] Parish and I told him I might as well be dead as living with the haemorrhaging I was having.


‘Later that afternoon he popped his head round the door and held his thumbs up. He said: “David, I’m going to do you tomorrow.” And the next day I had the surgery and sailed through it. Chest-wise, I’ve never looked back.’


Medical progress


Professor John Wallwork CBE, Chairman of Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘As surgery started to be used as a treatment for TB, hospitals like Papworth attracted chest surgeons to come and work here, and over time they moved into other types of heart and lung surgery, for example transplantation.


‘Once we started performing UK and world ‘firsts’ at Papworth – like the first successful heart transplant in the UK in 1979 and the world’s first heart, lung and liver transplant in 1986 – we became known all over the world. This helped us to attract more world-class doctors and develop specialist services in not just transplantation, but also the treatment of pulmonary hypertension, cystic fibrosis and sleep disorders.’


Stephen Posey, CEO of Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘The same pioneering spirit with which Pendrill Varrier-Jones established the hospital 100 years ago continues to inspire breakthroughs in patient care and treatment today. Royal Papworth Hospital has grown from a Cambridgeshire TB colony into a globally-recognised heart and lung centre that is now preparing to move to a new purpose-built site in Cambridge later this year – the next chapter in our compelling story.’


The new hospital will open on Cambridge’s Biomedical Campus in September 2018.


Events & activities


Papworth 100 events and activities are planned throughout the year to celebrate Royal Papworth Hospital’s centenary, including a summer fete, an appearance at the Cambridge Science Festival and screenings of a new film which explores the hospital’s history.


Royal Papworth Hospital has received £88,900 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the Papworth 100 project. Made possible by money raised by National Lottery players, the project will celebrate the centenary and remarkable history of Royal Papworth Hospital in 2018.


Images: Historic Papworth Hall photographs, Dr Pendrill Varrier-Jones & TB patients on balcony © Cambridgeshire Archives, all other photographs © Royal Papworth Hospital.


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