Surgeons revolt over an unpopular name
Many local people were dismayed in 1972 when the hospital’s Board changed the hospital’s name from Footscray and District Hospital to Western General, according to Associate Professor Lack’s History of Footscray. They viewed it as another sign that regionalism was overtaking their suburb’s local identity.
At the time, the Board President, Roy Parsons, said the new name was a better way to represent the large and diverse geographic area served by the hospital.
But the community’s disappointment over the change was mild compared with its reaction in 1986 when Western General’s name was changed to the Maribyrnong Medical Centre.
The Cain state government said the switch was necessary to reflect the government’s reorganisation and expansion of the hospital and other health services in the western suburbs. The overhaul of the region’s health services involved merging Western General with a small community hospital and health service in Sunshine and renaming it Maribyrnong Medical Centre.
It was a deeply unpopular decision. It provoked anger among hospital staff and in the local community. Kendall Francis, one of the hospital’s senior surgeons, wrote to the Premier, John Cain, urging him to overturn “the insensitive and pointless” decision to name the hospital Maribyrnong Medical Centre. His colleague, senior surgeon John Thomson wrote a letter of protest to the hospital’s management, arguing that the new name failed to do justice to the hospital and what it stood for as a major acute care hospital serving the district and beyond.
“Changing the name to the Maribyrnong Medical Centre was a crazy thing to do because we weren’t even in the electorate of Maribyrnong, we weren’t beside the Maribyrnong River and it meant we finished up with the same initials as the Monash Medical Centre,” said Dr Mary Stannard, who was the hospital’s medical director at the time. “I don’t think anyone thought it was a ‘you beaut’ idea.”
The hospital’s board responded to community anger about the decision and surveyed staff, local groups and the general community, asking them to suggest an alternative name.
Out of 576 people who replied, 496 wanted to retain the name Western General Hospital. The hospital’s survey results also showed that most people believed it was acceptable to use the name Footscray and Sunshine to define the two campuses.
The board lobbied the government to get it to reverse its decision. Finally in 1988 the state health minister, David White, reached a compromise with the board. He agreed that although the corporate name of the three merged institutions would be MMC, each campus could maintain its own identity and be known as Western General Hospital (Campus) and Sunshine Hospital (Campus).
Then, in 2014 the hospital was renamed Footscray Hospital after surveys of residents in the western suburbs found that most people still called the hospital Footscray Hospital, despite the successive changes to its name.