A History of Hospitals

By Tim Lambert

Early Hospitals

The first hospitals were founded in the Ancient World. There were hospitals in India and Sri Lanka before 200 BC. By the 2nd century AD, the Romans had military hospitals called Valetudinaria. In the late 4th century The Roman Empire split in two, east and west. Meanwhile, Christians believed they had a duty to care for the sick and they founded many hospitals in the Eastern Roman Empire in the late 4th century. One of the first was built by Basil of Caesarea (c. 330 – 379) in what is now Turkey.

In Medieval Europe, the church ran hospitals. In 542 a hospital called the Hotel-Dieu was founded in Lyon, France. Another hospital called the Hotel-Dieu was founded in Paris in 651. The number of hospitals in Western Europe greatly increased from the 12th century. In them, monks or nuns cared for the sick as best they could. Meanwhile, during the Middle Ages, there were many hospitals in the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic world.

In Medieval Europe, there were also leper hostels outside towns. There was nothing they could do about this dreadful disease except isolate the sufferers.

After the Reformation almshouses were founded in many English towns and hospitals often began as offshoots of them. During the 18th century, several hospitals were founded in England. In 1724 Guys Hospital was founded with a bequest from a merchant named Thomas Guy. St Georges was founded in 1733 and Middlesex Hospital in 1745. Hospitals were also founded in Bristol in 1733, York in 1740, Exeter in 1741, and Liverpool in 1745. The first civilian hospital in America opened in Philadelphia in 1751. Many new hospitals were founded in the 19th century. In London Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital was founded in 1852.

Modern Hospitals

In the late 18th century and early 19th century, dispensaries were founded in many towns. They were charities where the poor could obtain free medicines.

In 1792 a Frenchman named Dominique-Jean Larrey created an ambulance service for wounded men. The US Ambulance Corps was formed in 1862. The first civilian hospital ambulance service started in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA in 1866.

However, hospitals could do little for the sick except care for them till anesthetics were developed in the 1840s and antiseptic surgery was invented in 1865.

Last revised 2024