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The People's Hospital - Tales from the surgeon's table

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The People's Hospital - Tales from the surgeon's table

Former Footscray Hospital sur​geons Kendall Francis (left) and John Thomson (right) with author Caroline Milburn at the formal launch of the book.​

The stories of trailblazing surgeons who worked at Footscray Hospital in its earliest days have been celebrated in a new book.

The People's Hospital – Tales from the surgeon's table also charts the grassroots campaign by community leaders and local factory workers in the early 1900s to get the hospital built.

The local campaigners, known as the "The Hospital Movement," bought the large Eleanor Street site for the hospital in 1920 and then struggled for several decades lobbying governments to get the public hospital built.

They finally won their battle when the hospital opened in 1953. 

It was the first acute care general hospital to be built in suburban Melbourne.

The book describes how surgeons worked in public hospitals in unpaid "honorary" positions and earned their living from private patients in the era before universal health insurance was introduced in 1975.

John Thomson, one of many surgeons and medical staff interviewed in the book, joined the hospital in 1955.

"As honorary surgeons we had an understanding with the hospital's staff and management to give service and to help people," Mr Thomson said.

"It was a gentleman's arrangement."

During that era the City of Footscray was the heartland of Melbourne's heavy agricultural industries.

It teemed with abattoirs, rope works, steel foundries, chemical works and many other factories.

It was densely populated and industrial accidents were common.

"It was a very poor district and people often suffered and put up with things," Mr Thomson said. "You felt the need; you felt it all over you."

The book was published by Western Health and written by Caroline Milburn, a former journalist with The Age newspaper.

Associate Professor Alex Cockram, Western Health's Chief Executive, said Footscray Hospital's early surgeons and staff laid the foundation for Western Health's ethos and its mission to respond to the palpable need of western suburbs residents.

"In 2016, the striking characteristics of this health service and its staff are still very closely aligned to the values and attitudes of its founders," she said.

"There is a phenomenal 'Can Do' and 'Get on With It' attitude and a steely determination to constantly improve the service we provide."


To purchase a copy of the book, visit the dedicated website  where you will also find a series of video interviews with a number of the eminent surgeons interviewed for the book.