- Child Health in Scotland: A History of Glasgow's Royal Hospital for Sick Children by Iain Hutchison, Malcolm Nicolson, and Lawrence Weaver
For decades, institutional histories tended to be detailed and well-researched, yet serviceable and occasionally unimaginative. Studies in this mold tended to craft a magisterial grand narrative while offering relatively little in the way of sustained historical contextualization. McInnes's St. Thomas' Hospital (1963) and Medvei and Thornton's The Royal Hospital of Saint Bartholomew (1974) were undoubtedly products of painstaking research, yet many were also the products of the institutions themselves and had a unsurprising tendency to place the institution at the center of its historical context, rather than vice versa. Fortunately, the intervening decades have provided us with a wealth of new studies that seek to expose the inner workings of medical institutions while casting a broader critical eye to wider historical developments. Several of these studies have also shed light on the long-overlooked place of children in the stories of institutional medicine.
In their recent investigation into the establishment and operation of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow, Child Health in Scotland: A History of Glasgow's Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Iain Hutchison, Malcolm Nicolson, and Lawrence Weaver successfully place the rise of a distinctive, specialist institution within the historical context of pediatric professionalization. In doing so, they craft a study that provides a very welcome piece of the story of how pediatricians and hospital administrators navigated the challenges of caring for the health of children against the backdrop of the shifting sands of public health trends, professional battles, and the all-important arrival of the welfare state.
The authors set out to argue that the RHSC occupied an important space within a specific moment in time: the heyday of the institutionalization of medical specialization, an era that came to an end for the RHSC when it was incorporated within a larger medical complex in 2015. As with many institutional histories, this study embodies a somewhat triumphalist approach, pitting the institution against the myriad of challenges it overcame. At the same time, however, this study is [End Page 669] also the result of painstaking research, and the RHSC's trials and tribulations are located quite firmly within the larger context of social history.
Many of this study's strongest sections chronicle key moments in which differing views of pediatrics resulted in misunderstanding and even conflict: the infighting between hospital directors (Glasgow Royal Infirmary vs. the new Royal Hospital for Sick Children), divisions between the nursing staff and mothers in the local community, and the necessity for the institution to navigate the local politics of Glasgow in order to survive and thrive. In some areas, the narrative does dwell on relatively familiar territory of the innovative administrator versus the traditional hierarchy, though this certainly doesn't diminish the relevance of men like Ian Donald, who appear to have wrought significant change within a remarkably short period of time. These stories are also balanced by the voices of patients and parents, many of whom, interestingly enough, seem to have acted against the wishes of the hospital on numerous occasions, revealing the extent to which the chronicle of the medicalization of childcare was fraught with dissent and disaster.
This study is situated quite ably within the history of pediatric medicine, chronicling as it does the valuable role institutions like the RHSC played in advancing children's medicine and increasing the interfaces between child patients and the medical men who came to specialize in their ailments. Just as significantly, this study tells the crucial tale of a journey from pediatric and institutional specialization to a medical landscape in which specialization has made such institutions regrettably redundant or branded as "inefficient." In exposing this irony, this study proves itself as something more than another history of a medical institution that was born in the Victorian era and managed to emerge beaten but not broken in...