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Book Review : A history of Britain's hospitals and the background to the medical, nursing and allied professions

Medical History
Cambridge University Press
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In 1990, Lindsay Granshaw expressed optimism about the future of hospital histories. Over the preceding decade, studies that examined the hospital in its medical, social and economic context were beginning to challenge old-style institutional histories in which great men and women, new buildings, nursing reforms, and medical schools dominated. The 1990s saw an acceleration of this trend with the publication of a number of revisionist comparative histories and individual studies that firmly rejected traditional hagiographic accounts. Unfortunately, the Carruthers' book, A history of Britain's hospitals, does not belong in this mould. Although they share some of the revisionists' interests in hospital management and funding, their history of English hospitals from the Romans through to New Labour belongs firmly to a now largely outdated approach to hospital history. A history of Britain's hospitals is an unappetizing and predictable narrative that follows a loosely thematic framework. Although chapters are devoted to medical education and the origins of the “modern” nurse, for the most part the Carruthers present a series of hospital biographies broadly constructed around hospital type—general, specialist, maternity, paediatric, municipal, mental, and cottage hospital. These sequentially describe the history of individual institutions from their foundation to the first decade of the NHS. The social, economic and medical context is frequently absent and the emphasis is firmly on founders, new buildings, nursing arrangements, and medical schools. Description and contemporary comparisons are favoured over analysis. Patients and medical treatments are largely absent in an account that is often partisan. Although the acknowledgements imply lengthy study in numerous metropolitan archives, the absence of references makes it hard to disentangle where the Carruthers have bought wholesale into the traditional Whiggish perspective found in the older secondary literature and where they have employed their archival

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