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The Duchess of York Hospital for Babies (1914-86)

The Duchess of York Hospital for Babies in Burnage was founded as the Manchester Babies' Hospital in 1914 by Dr Catherine Chisholm, BA MB ChB MD FRCP CBE (1878-1952). She was the first female student to join the Manchester Medical School in 1898, graduating in medicine in 1904.

Dr Chisholm was school medical officer for the Manchester High School for Girls, women's medical officer for the University, a lecturer in vaccination, and children's physician at the Manchester Northern Hospital and Hope Hospital in Salford.

She was a medical adviser on child health to the Manchester public health committee and, together with Margaret Ashton (1856-1937), expanded the health visitor and infant welfare services, tackling the problems of prematurity, malnutrition, gastroenteritis and congenital deformity. The average infant mortality was around 130 per 1000, and 20% of deaths of babies under six months were due to 'diarrhoea and disease of digestion'.

The Manchester Babies' Hospital (MBH) was founded because children's hospitals did not provide 'beds' for delicate babies needing constant and specialist nursing. It was considered safer to leave them at home.

The MBH was a voluntary hospital, staffed by women doctors, and financed by Miss Ashton, other donors, and the Manchester and Salford City Councils. Originally based in a large house in Levenshulme, most of the babies were under six months and seriously ill from starvation, gastroenteritis, tuberculosis and congenital syphilis.

These infantile dystrophies' accounted for 45% of infant deaths in Manchester and 20% of admissions to the MBH; 'no baby under 4lbs survived'.

After the war, Dr Chisholm visited the Boston Children's Hospital in America to study infant feeding and the treatment of rickets. In 1920, the hospital moved to the much larger Cringle Hall on Burnage Lane, which was converted to five wards, as older children were also being treated for rickets.

A purpose-built pavilion ward was built in 1925 with 80 cots; it was a 'sunshine ward', facing south, and included a massage room with a mercury vapour lamp for 'artificial sunlight' (UV) for the treatment of rickets, as well as a laboratory, milk room, diet kitchen and X-ray department. Nursing mothers were employed to provide breast milk for premature babies and, later, a breast milk bank was set up.

Rickets was a common and disabling disease caused by lack of sunlight due to smoke pollution and poor diet. The discovery that it could be cured by vitamin D and UV light was a major advance. Children with rickets could be cured and discharged – a boost to the morale of the staff and hospital supporters.


Hearing aid

Dr Chisholm's plans for the 'hospital of her dreams' included facilities for older children, a surgical operating theatre, and a large out-patients and physiotherapy clinic.

Dr Sylvia Guthrie MD MRCP (1897-1989) was in charge of the out-patients clinic. Referrals for minor illness, rickets, UV treatment and physio exceeded 10,000 cases a year.

The appointment of a woman surgeon in 1930, Mrs Edith McCrea, BA MB BCh FRCSI (1896-1940), epitomised Dr Chisholm's ambition for 'a complete hospital service for children, medical and surgical, provided by women doctors'. Mrs McCrea had trained under a German paediatric surgeon, Conrad Ramstedt (1867-1963), and had a wide range of surgical skills. Sadly, she was killed in an air raid on Trafford Park in 1940.

In 1935, Dr Chisholm was awarded a CBE for her dedication to child health and HRH, the Duchess of York, visited the hospital to open the new operating theatre. The hospital was renamed the Duchess of York Hospital for Babies (DYH).

The work of the DYH increased during World War 2. It was now well established and had a good reputation, making a major contribution to reducing infant mortality and improving child welfare.

Optimistic about the NHS, Dr Chisholm retired in 1947 and the DYH continued as a centre for paediatric medical teaching and research. However, from the 1950s, the major paediatric hospitals developed their own neonatal units and questioned the need for a specific babies' hospital. Gradually, the female staff were replaced by male consultants.

The preferred policy was now for a centralised paediatric service and, despite a strong campaign by the local community, the DYH closed in 1986, replaced by a paediatric ward in the University Hospital of South Manchester (Withington Hospital), which closed in 2004.

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