Tuesday, 19 November 2013

‘Funding Dublin’s Hospitals c.1847-1880’ by Joseph Curran

In this month's blog post, Joseph Curran, a graduate of the MA in Social and Cultural History of Medicine at UCD, writes about his MA thesis 'Funding Dublin's Hospitals, c.1847-1880'. The blog post examines some of the themes that emerged from the thesis, highlighting the importance of studying hospital finance and why Dublin makes an interesting case study.

Post-Famine Dublin possessed more voluntary hospitals than any other Irish town. Thom’s Directory for 1850 listed nineteen voluntary hospitals operating in the city and many more were established in the next three decades. These institutions varied significantly in scale and function. They included general hospitals such as the Meath and Dr. Steevens’ Hospitals, as well as specialist institutions including the Westmoreland Lock Hospital which treated female venereal disease patients, several maternity hospitals, and a number of ophthalmic institutions. Histories of individual Dublin hospitals have been written which contain valuable information on their day-to-day activities, however they rarely reveal the common challenges faced by the city’s hospitals. Although finance might appear to be a topic far removed from hospitals’ ‘real’ work, recent studies by Keir Waddington and Sally Sheard have shown how examining hospital funding sheds light on these institutions’ interactions with their surrounding communities. From the 1860s hospital managers throughout the United Kingdom were under pressure to improve their institutions’ sanitary arrangements and nursing services. Examining hospital finance allows one to assess the financial impact of such reforms and the role played by the institutions’ ‘paymasters’ in promoting such changes. It makes it possible to examine how receipt of income from different types of sources affected hospital administration.

Dublin presents a particularly interesting case for the study of hospital finance. As David Durnin has pointed out, the city was home to Ireland’s medical elite and its voluntary hospitals were places of medical education. Dublin’s hospitals attracted many students in this period because of their prestigious educational reputation and they gained financially from medical students attending for clinical instruction. Educational activity subsidised hospital services as the institutions’ medical officers performed their duties free of charge while receiving income from student fees. In some hospitals a portion of these fees was also donated to the institution. Receipt of educational income created demands on resources which could interfere with the wishes of the hospitals’ other paymasters. For example, those making charitable donations to the hospitals were often allowed to recommend patients for treatment. Medical officers, however, wanted to prioritise cases they considered interesting from an educational point of view and they sometimes disagreed with lay donors about which patients should be admitted. Studying hospital finance sheds light on how such conflicts affected the administration of Dublin’s hospitals.  

Dr. Steevens’ Hospital, Dublin. This hospital was one of several Dublin hospitals in receipt of annual Parliamentary grants in the post-Famine period. Image courtesy of Wellcome Library.

Mary E. Daly highlighted the importance of religious tensions in shaping social life in post-Famine Dublin. Many of the city’s hospitals, including Dr. Steevens’ and Sir Patrick Dun’s, had historic links with the Church of Ireland. A smaller number of hospitals, such as St. Vincent’s and the Mater, were managed by Catholic religious orders. Examining hospital finance reveals the effects of religious affiliation on the institutions’ interactions with the outside world, and in particular, on their managers’ fundraising efforts. In her study of medical provision in Huddersfield and Wakefield, Hilary Marland pointed out that unlike other types of charities, hospitals and dispensaries gained the support of both Anglicans and Non-conformists in these religiously-divided towns. Studying hospital funding allows one to compare this with the situation in Dublin, did Dublin’s hospital managers emphasise their institutions’ links with one religious group to attract donations, or did they try to appeal to donors of all denominations? 

Studying the finances of Dublin’s hospitals also illuminates the effects of an unusual income source. Nine Dublin hospitals received annual grants from Parliament in this period, a situation almost unique in the United Kingdom. In 1848 a Parliamentary Select Committee recommended the grants be reduced annually until they ended. However this led to protests in Dublin and the decision to withdraw the grants was reversed in the mid-1850s. These events provide an opportunity to examine ideas advanced by those defending what was, at the time, a very unusual form of hospital income. Most British contemporaries would have considered the Parliamentary funding of hospitals to be unacceptable. How did those defending the grants make their case? Did their arguments reflect a greater ideological acceptance of central state involvement in healthcare provision in Ireland compared with the rest of the United Kingdom? Or did the protestors argue that Dublin’s hospitals were special cases entitled to income that would be otherwise objectionable? 

‘Public Engagement’, extract from an advertisement for a bazaar in aid of the Mater Hospital, 
Freeman’s Journal 10 January 1860.
Hospital managers had to appeal to the public in ways consistent with contemporary social expectations, note, for example, the involvement of ‘Ladies of rank and distinction’ in aiding the event. 
Image courtesy of the Irish Newspapers Archive.

As well as shedding light on ideas, analysis of Parliamentary funding reveals how this type of finance affected hospital administration. A supervisory body, the Board of Superintendence of Dublin Hospitals, was established in 1856 to monitor the grant-aided institutions. Gerard M. Fealy highlighted the Board’s role in promoting change in sanitary provision and nursing arrangements at the supervised hospitals. Indeed the Board not only influenced hospitals by inspecting them and offering advice, it published annual reports containing details of hospital income, expenditure, and treatment outcomes, something which brought much information on the supervised hospitals before the public. Hospital managers were aware of the potential importance of this information as many of them also had to appeal to the public for donations. Bad publicity from any source might make such donations less likely. Indeed several Dublin hospitals were also supervised by other funding bodies including Dublin Corporation. Receipt of income from a diverse range of sources created many obligations which directly affected hospital administration in Dublin and shaped how the institutions’ managers interacted with the wider world. The study of hospital finance is not simply the examination of ‘dry’ statistical data far removed from the institutions’ ‘real’ business, rather it reveals key issues in hospital management and provides a convenient way of highlighting the common challenges faced by a city’s hospitals.  Dublin provides an especially interesting case for such a study.    

Joseph Curran is a doctoral student at the University of Edinburgh. His PhD explores philanthropic networks in Dublin and Edinburgh between 1815 and 1845. The aim of the project is to examine what involvement in charitable activity reveals about elite social life in each city. Joseph's PhD research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Jenny Balston Scholarship. He may be contacted by email at j "dot" s "dot" curran "at" sms.ed.ac.uk