Lothian Hospital Histories

Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh

After an appeal for funds by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Infirmary, or Hospital for the Sick Poor, opened on 6 August 1729. It was the first voluntary hospital in Scotland.

At the time of opening the original building, the "Little House" at the head of Robertson's Close, contained four beds. A Royal Charter was granted in 1736, and in 1741 the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (RIE) moved to new premises in what is now Infirmary Street. The building was designed by William Adam and accommodated 228 beds. The RIE gradually expanded to fill the whole area between Drummond Street and Infirmary Street, the two main additions being the old Surgical Hospital (opened in 1832) and the new Surgical Hospital (opened in 1853). By the 1860s concern was being expressed at the condition of the original building and at the cramped and smoky nature of the whole site. In 1872 David Bryce was commissioned to draw up plans for a new hospital, and in 1879 the RIE moved to a new site at Lauriston Place.

Until the inception of the National Health Service in 1948, the administration of the Infirmary was carried out by the Managers. They were responsible to the Court of Contributors, which consisted of subscribers contributing £5 or more to the RIE. Among the Managers were representatives from the Town Council, physicians and surgeons, and the legal profession.

In 1948 the RIE became part of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and Associated Hospitals group and was run by the Board of Management. From 1974 it formed part of the South Lothian District of Lothian Health Board as the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and Associated Hospitals Unit, and in 1994 became the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh NHS Trust. In 1999 this in turn became the Lothian University Hospitals NHS Trust, but the Trusts were disbanded in 2004 and since then Lothian University Hospitals has operated as a Division of NHS Lothian.

Concern over the Lauriston site was first expressed in 1946, when it was felt that the buildings were insufficient to meet the needs of the new National Health Service. Various plans were put forward, including demolition and rebuilding of the existing site, and construction of a brand new RIE on a greenfield site, along with another new southern general hospital. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s a number of options were discussed, but the decision was eventually made to rebuild at Lauriston in a series of phases which aimed to minimise disruption to patients and staff. Work was repeatedly delayed, due in part to financial issues and also to the fact that the Secretary of State for Scotland declared that the listed buildings could not be demolished, and it was not until 1981 that the first phase of rebuilding was completed. Again this plan did not come to fruition, and in the late 1990s work was begun on a new RIE at Little France which would also replace the Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion, the Princess Margaret Rose Orthopaedic Hospital and the City Hospital. In January 2002 the first patients and services moved in as the PMR closed, and the move was completed in 2003. Chalmers Hospital, the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion and the Lauriston Building remain at the Lauriston site, the remainder of which is under development to create new leisure, office and residential facilities.

Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh records