Today is Part 2 of our series on The Victorian Hospital—the perilous setting of Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries #4, In Myrtle Peril. Last time we looked at the advancements in surgical care; today we take a closer look inside hospital life itself.
As medical care evolved in the 19th century, it also became more centralized, with more and more patients seeking treatment at hospitals. In the 19th century, like today, hospitals took both out-patients (for a single visit) or in-patients (for longer-term stays). But hospital stays for Victorian patients were far longer than we expect today—several weeks to months being common. Not unexpectedly, there was a lot of competition for available beds.
Like most facets of life in 19th century Britain, hospital care availability differed according to social class. Poor Wards at hospitals admitted “the working poor,” those who were industriously contributing to society but unable to afford the cost of medical care. (The truly destitute, their poverty seen as a moral failing, were turned away from most hospitals, forced to seek care at dreaded workhouse infirmaries.) Prosperous benefactors, like large employers, could buy subscriptions to the hospital, allowing them to sponsor a certain number of patients per year. For more funding, hospitals began offering “paid beds” to better-heeled patients who could afford them, which gradually evolved into private wards with better amenities.
Large hospitals required correspondingly robust staffs, from administrators to nurses to porters, to cooks and maids and laundresses, to stablehands and ambulance drivers. Surprisingly, doctors typically worked without pay, volunteering their “consulting services” in return for education, exposure, and connections to clients for their private practices.
To make room for all these patients, workers, and all the equipment needed to keep the hospital running, hospitals evolved into the massive, multi-building complexes we know today. A major hospital would include not only the medical wards, outpatient clinics, and surgical facilities, but also laboratories, laundries, offices, storerooms, and sitting rooms for the staff.
In addition to the staff, doctors, and patients, you might encounter volunteers and visitors. Philanthropic Ladies Committees organized fundraisers, entertainment, and morale-boosting visits to the patients.
Charitable committees organized annual fundraising campaigns and events, such as the Hospital Sunday fete from In Myrtle Peril. These raised money for outpatient education programs, care for the Poor Wards, and building funds and new technology.
All in all, a Victorian hospital was a bustling, busy place… and with all that activity, it’s no surprise that someone on the grounds might have nefarious intent. Read all about the dangers encountered by Myrtle’s father during his hospital stay in In Myrtle Peril.