Western Health Logo

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


Footscray Hospital and Western Health's development timeline

    • 1880s

      Strong feeling among local residents that Footscray should have its own hospital. People seeking medical treatment have to travel to city-based hospitals.

    • 1919

      An influenza epidemic and a devastating flood hit Footscray. The events, combined with civic anger about ill-equipped health services and the ongoing problem of industrial accidents in the west’s teeming factories, lead Footscray’s citizens to intensify their calls for a public general hospital to be built in the local area. Residents, trade unionists, business owners and councillors form a group, known as the “Hospital Movement” to begin the fight for a hospital.

    • 1920-21

      Hospital Movement raises £2,000 from community donations to buy the Eleanor Street site, a five and a half acre plot in the highest part of Footscray. It organises a building fund. Workers in local factories start contributing whatever they can spare from meagre wages. In eight months, the employees of the Sunshine Harvester Works donate £180 to the building fund.

    • 1924

      Victorian government refuses to build public hospital in Footscray.

    • 1927-33

      Public meetings call for hospital to be built, Hospital Movement’s requests to government fail.

    • 1935

      Working with local medical practitioners, Hospital Movement decides to build its own community clinic, staffed by local doctors.

    • 1938

      The clinic, the Footscray Outpatients’ & Welfare Centre, opens its doors. Four, four hourly clinics held each week. Local businessman William J Pridham, inaugural president of the Hospital Movement, is appointed President of the Centre’s management committee.

    • 1939

      Five thousand patients, many undernourished, are treated in the first year.

        • 1940

          Citizens of Footscray raise funds to buy an X-ray machine for Centre.

        • 1941

          Ante-natal clinic deals with soaring numbers of families. Public agitation for a maternity ward to be established at the Centre. Charities’ Board gives approval for a 30-bed community hospital.

        • 1942

          Local businesses and citizens raise more than £13,000 in Centre’s Appeal for proposed hospital. Charities’ Board refuses permission to build hospital due to World War 11 continuing..

        • 1945-52

          Government gives go-ahead to build a 205 bed public hospital, with medical, surgery, midwifery and children’s wards, including a premature nursery, to cost £205,000. Local community raises more than £90,000 for the project. William Pridham, leading member of the Hospital Movement and the Centre’s first and only President, dies in 1951, two years before the official opening of the new hospital.

        • 1953

          After 34 years of community effort, the Footscray and District Hospital is officially opened by Lady Violet Brooks, wife of the Victorian Governor, General Sir Dallas Brooks. Centre’s building converted to General Casualty and Outpatients’ section.

        • 1954

          More than 35,000 outpatients and 3,700 inpatients treated in 12 months. Registered as a general training school for nurses, first 51 nursing students arrive.*

          * from 1954 onwards individual years refer to financial years from hospital’s annual reports.

        • 1955

          Hospital gains registration as a midwifery training school.

        • 1956

          Bed shortage as hospital reaches its full planned capacity of 213 beds only two years after opening. Some urgent medical, surgical and maternity cases turned away. Pathology, Radiology, and Physiotherapy departments under severe strain. Bed capacity increased to 238.

          Surgeons perform record number of theatre operations – 3,352.

        • 1957

          Record number of inpatients – 7,041 patients – admitted.

          24 hour anaesthetic service introduced with the appointment of two anaesthetic registrars. Replaces the system of sessional anaesthetists, enabling an anaesthetist to be available at any hour of the day or night for urgent operations or obstetric emergencies.

        • 1958

          Patient demand continues to outstrip hospital capacity, causing bed shortages. An average of 50 expectant mothers per month, or 600 per year, forced to seek admission to other hospitals.

          First Director of Anaesthetics, Dr Patricia Wilson, appointed.

        • 1959

          New physiotherapy department opened on fourth floor.

          Record number of patients dealt with in all sections of the hospital, including a 34 per cent increase in number of outpatients treated to 12,801. Surgeons perform 3,747 operations in the two operating theatres during the year.

          First Ophthalmology and Dermatology clinics established – evidence of the hospital’s growing status.

        • 1960

          Becomes only fully air-conditioned hospital in Victoria.

        • 1961

          McArthur House, 20-bed after care unit opens and total bed capacity increases to 255. Enables more patients to be treated in the general and surgical wards.

          Maternity situation worsens. Hospital’s 49 maternity beds unable to cope with demand. More than 1000 maternity patients refused admission per year.

            • 1967

              Lack of money is main problem facing hospital, writes Medical Superintendent J Lawson. “The development of essential services for the care of elderly patients has been impossible because of lack of money… much needed psychiatric, rehabilitation, and diagnostic services have not taken place for the same reason.”

            • 1968

              Hospital has 274 beds, bed occupancy in adult wards continually between 92-95 per cent of hospital’s capacity.

            • 1969

              Hospital full. Many maternity and general medical and surgical patients had to be refused admission due to escalating demand for services. Medical Superintendent Dr J S Lawson writes it is therefore “essential that we continue to press for the completion of the hospital as a 500 bed institution”.

              Resident Medical Staff quarters opened – 16 bedrooms, lounge and recreation room.

              First small group of Monash University undergraduate medical students given approval to do training rounds at Footscray. The hospital accepts four fifth year gynaecology and obstetrics medical students. Their presence, with Melbourne University students from the Royal Melbourne Hospital, strengthens the hospital’s relationship with the universities and sets it on the path to becoming a teaching hospital.

            • 1972

              Board of Management changes hospital’s name to Western General Hospital after a ‘Special Meeting of Contributors’ passes an overwhelming vote in favour of the change. Board President, Roy Parsons, says the name is more representative of the large and diverse geographic area served by the hospital.

              New 12 bed Intensive Care and Coronary Care unit opened.

            • 1975

              Dramatic changes introduced for patients, medical staff and hospital funding under the Whitlam Government’s national universal health care system known as Medibank. Tradition of Honorary Medical Staff replaced with a system of sessional payments for medical staff, with the number of sessions based on the amount required to provide a satisfactory level of senior medical staffing for ward patients treated in the hospital.

              Flow of Commonwealth funding for hospitals under Medibank leads to more stable financing for hospitals. Patient numbers at the Accident and Emergency Department and Outpatients soar from 52,000 patients in the previous year to 70,000.

              Accident and Emergency Department becomes the third busiest among Victoria’s hospitals but smallest in size in Melbourne.

              Geriatric Day Unit officially opened.

              Formal agreement reached with Melbourne University for hospital to teach medical students from the university’s clinical school at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

            • 1977

              Overhaul of hospital’s organisational structure approved by Board of Management. New system organises hospital into seven major medical divisions. Each division headed by a Chairman and is structured into a series of departments.

              Rotation registrar links established with the Royal Melbourne, Royal Children’s and Prince Henry’s Hospitals.

              Medical students from Melbourne University continue to attend the hospital for teaching in medicine, surgery and obstetrics. Hospital has recognised post-graduate medical training posts in surgery, medicine, obstetrics, anaesthetics, pathology, paediatrics and radiology.

            • 1978

              Government gives planning approval for a north wing to be built, lifting bed capacity to 400.

                • 1980

                  Links with Monash University formalised by establishing a Clinical School of Monash University at the hospital.

                  Occupational Health and Safety Unit established as a joint venture with Monash University’s Department of Social and Preventive Medicine. The unit conducts research into work-related injuries, making it the only one of its kind in Australia.”

                • 1983

                  Trend toward college-based nursing education leads hospital to partner with Footscray Institute of Technology’s newly established basic nursing course to provide clinical experience for the Institute’s nursing students. Dr Alison Garven, director of Anaesthesia and Critical Care, retires after almost 30 years service.

                  Nurses home is renamed the Mavis Mitchell nurses home in memory of the hospital’s first matron, Mavis J Mitchell.

                  Hospital becomes first in Victoria to develop a training program for orderlies.

                • 1984

                  The Diabetic Education Clinic in Outpatients is expanded to cater for an average of 20 patients per week.

                  Half of hospital’s patients now born overseas. Hospital pioneers a program to help its non-English speaking patients communicate with medical staff, including the publication of six booklets written in six different languages – Vietnamese, Lebanese, Greek, Yugoslav, Turkish and Italian. The program is the most extensive of its kind in Victoria.

                • 1986

                  Cain state government announces major upgrade hospital services in western suburbs. The redevelopment, to be built in three stages, includes the partial relocation of Prince Henry’s Hospital to Western Hospital, 50 extra beds and extra facilities to be built at Footscray.

                  The upgrade includes a 285-bed $66 million hospital to be built at Furlong Road, Sunshine, funding to establish professorial chairs and extra research facilities for Western to achieve full status as a teaching hospital. Western Hospital is amalgamated with the Sunshine and District Community Hospital, and the Sunshine Hospitals and Health Services Society (St Albans). Its name is changed to the Maribyrnong Medical Centre, to reflect the amalgamation and its broader reach across the western suburbs.

                • 1987

                  Turmoil as hospital’s nurses join an unprecedented statewide strike for better pay and conditions. Strike lasts from November 5th to December 20th when nurses return to work after gaining improved salary and career structure from government and Industrial Relations Commission.

                  Victoria’s first hospital-based Alcohol unit established to identify excessive drinking in patients and treat their addiction.

                  Visiting US surgeon performs what is believed to be first total knee replacement carried out in an Australia hospital.

                • 1988

                  Teaching ties with Monash University severed after hospital’s board decides to secure a formal partnership with Melbourne University to train undergraduate medical students and boost research capabilities.

                  Achieves full teaching hospital status by becoming a fully- fledged teaching hospital of Melbourne University.

                  Professor Neville Yeomans, of Melbourne University’s Department of Medicine, appointed as hospital’s first Professor of Medicine.

                • 1989

                  A community backlash against the hospital’s new name ensures the Maribyrnong Medical Centre is renamed the Western Hospital, with campuses at Footscray and Sunshine.

                  First group of undergraduate medical students from Melbourne University starts training at the hospital.

                • 1990

                  Grand opening of 288-bed Western Hospital Sunshine campus by the Victorian Premier, John Cain. New hospital gives western suburbs’ residents better access to women’s, children’s and geriatrics services, with specialist obstetrics, gynaecology, paediatrics and geriatrics facilities.

                  Victorian Premier, John Cain, opens first stage of his government’s redevelopment of the Footscray campus. The $9 million building includes four new operating theatres, the School of Nursing and the Sterile Supply Department.

                  First oncology ward in western suburbs opened at Western Hospital.

                • 1991

                  Victorian Premier, Joan Kirner, opens the second stage of the redevelopment of Footscray campus. It includes a new emergency department, a 14-bed intensive care and 10 bed coronary care unit, 54 extra medical, surgical and orthopaedic beds and a new staff cafeteria.

                • 1993

                  Final stage of the government’s six year $150 million redevelopment of hospital services in the west is completed. The new $9 million East block, comprising the auditorium, pathology, library and new front entrance to the hospital is opened by the Victorian Health Minister, Marie Tehan.

                  Chair of Surgery established, creating a Melbourne University Department of Surgery at the hospital. Professor Robert Thomas appointed as the first Professor of Surgery to run the new department and its research capabilities.

                • 1994

                  First group of physiotherapy students graduate from the hospital’s clinical school training program.

                • 1995

                  Kennett state government embarks on a radical reorganisation of Victoria’s hospital system. Hospitals are grouped into regional networks. Western Hospital becomes part of the Western Health Care Network, with the Royal Melbourne, North West, Werribee Mercy, Williamstown and Altona hospitals.

                • 1996

                  A 12-bed community drug and alcohol withdrawal unit is opened, the first hospital-based unit in Victoria.

                    • 1997

                      The state government expands the health network to create North Western Health Care Network. Sunshine campus gets $30 million to boost its services.

                    • 1998

                      The new $1.8 million cardiac angiography suite is opened by the Victorian Health Minister, Rob Knowles. The suite provides specialist cardiac services to residents of the western suburbs who would otherwise have to travel to hospitals in central Melbourne or further afield for treatment.

                    • 2000

                      The newly elected Bracks’ state government disbands the previous government’s large health networks. It places Western Hospital, Sunshine Hospital and the Williamstown Hospital into the newly formed Western Health.

                      Hospital’s reputation for patient care, research and teaching continues to grow. Its university affiliations for nursing students and ambulance trainees include Monash University, Australian Catholic University, Deakin University, La Trobe University, RMIT.

                      A $7.8 million mental health facility and research centre opened at Sunshine Hospital, the first of its kind in the western suburbs.

                    • 2001

                      The Joseph Epstein Centre for Emergency Medicine Research is opened by the state health minister, John Thwaites. It is the first of its kind in Australia, catering for research at Western and Sunshine hospital emergency departments. Named in honour of the hospital’s Associate Professor Joseph Epstein.

                    • 2003

                      Sir Gustav Nossal opens the Centre for Population Health in the West, based at Sunshine Hospital. The research centre aims to identify priority health issues for residents and workers in the western suburbs.

                      A partnership with the Western Bulldogs Football Club is launched, involving regular player visits to the hospital.

                      Cultural diversity unit established to improve Western Health’s responsiveness to the western suburbs’ diverse ethnic groups.

                      Western Hospital celebrates its 50th birthday.

                    • 2005

                      Health data shows the western suburbs has among Victoria’s highest rates of cardiovascular disease, some types of cancers, mental disorders, drug use and infectious diseases. Hospital’s clinical and laboratory research efforts intensify in these areas.

                    • 2007

                      Bracks state government announces $186 million for capital works, including a new 128-bed wing at Sunshine Hospital and a new tertiary teaching and research building.

                    • 2008

                      Biggest expansion of Western Health’s facilities begins, involving a $250 million capital works program and facilities upgrade to be built at Footscray, Sunshine and Sunbury sites over the next four years.

                    • 2011

                      A $52 million teaching, training and research building opens at Sunshine Hospital. The Western Centre for Health Research and Education is a partnership between Western Health, the University of Melbourne and Victoria University and was funded by the Victorian Government, with support from the Federal Government and the Centre’s partners. It transforms Sunshine Hospital into a research centre and tertiary training facility for medical, nursing and allied health students.

                      First public radiation therapy facility in Melbourne’s west opens at Sunshine Hospital. The $42 million Radiation Therapy Centre, in partnership with Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, reduces the need for local residents to travel long distances for treatment.

                      $21 million Sunbury Day Hospital opens to provide medical, surgical, dialysis treatment and specialist clinics to the local community.

                    • 2012

                      Western Health Foundation established as a charity to raise funds for Western Health and accept donations.

                      $90 million acute services building opens at Sunshine Hospital. It includes 128 acute overnight beds, a 26-cot special care nursery, new oncology facilities and new outpatient areas for adults and children.

                      Associate Professor Alex Cockram commences as Chief Executive in October 2012 taking up the role vacated by the previous Chief Executive, Ms Kath Cook.

                        • 2014

                          Williamstown Hospital becomes an elective surgery hub, with a fourth operating theatre completed.

                          Sunshine Hospital becomes Victoria’s third busiest maternity hospital, with more than 5000 births.

                          Sunshine Hospital now has one of the busiest emergency departments in the state.

                          In June 2014, The Hon Ralph Willis, AO, completes a ten year appointment as the Board Chair of Western Health. On 1 July, The Hon Bronwyn Pike commences in the role.

                          In line with celebrations of the 60th year of Western Hospital, it is renamed Footscray Hospital after surveys of the local community find that most residents call the hospital Footscray Hospital. The acute teaching hospital has 360 beds.

                          A discussion document Changing Health for a Changing West is released by Western Health, describing the critical infrastructure challenges related to Footscray Hospital. The document outlines the need for a complete rebuild of the 60 year old south block and the construction of a new emergency department.

                        • 2015

                          In the biggest milestone in the history of Western Health, intensive care and cardiac units are established at Sunshine Hospital, along with a large number of acute specialty units. These changes take Sunshine Hospital to a campus with more than 600 beds (approx 500 of these managed by Western Health) and it becomes the largest acute teaching hospital in the western suburbs of Melbourne.

                          Footscray Hospital now has around 300 available beds, due to the changes at the Sunshine site.

                          The Andrews’ state government commits $200 million for the development of a women’s and children’s hospital at Western Health’s Sunshine campus. It will be named the Joan Kirner Women’s and Children’s Hospital in honour of Victoria’s first female premier.

                          Western Health now caters for one of Australia’s most culturally diverse and fastest-growing regions. It employs more than 6,200 staff and there are more than half a million patient presentations a year across its various sites.