Celebrating 200 years of the Newcastle Eye Infirmary

Today (Wednesday 23 March) marks the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Newcastle Eye Infirmary. The Newcastle Infirmary for Diseases of the Eye was officially opened on 23 March 1822 after surgeons T.M Greenhow and Sir John Fife saw the importance of a dedicated eye infirmary.

The infirmary was one of the first specialist eye hospitals in the UK and was open every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Although small by 1827 it had treated over 3,300 patients. The work of Sir John Fife was also published in the Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal in 1846 following a successful double cataract extraction.

Photo credit – Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, Accession 5940: Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust.

By 1885, patients were then treated in the purpose-built Newcastle Eye Hospital on St Mary’s Place – the hospital had four wards and three private rooms and by the 1930s had a waiting list of 150.

Developments in treatments and technology have revolutionised the way patients with conditions affecting the eye as Mike Clarke Acting Clinical Director of Newcastle Eye Centre explains: “In 1826, 18 patients were operated on for cataract; this year the number will approach 10,000. Newcastle was one of the first departments in the country to purchase a laser for treatment of diabetic retinopathy, which had previously been treated by removal of the pituitary gland. 

“More recently, Newcastle Eye Centre has been at the forefront of advances in treatment for macular degeneration and corneal transplantation, and benefits from its location as part of a major teaching hospital with links to Neurosciences and Child Health.  We look forward to serving the local population over the next 200 years.”

Photo credit – Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, Accession 5940: Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust.

Today, Newcastle Hospitals provide specialist ophthalmology services at the Newcastle Eye Centre at the Royal Victoria Infirmary and the purpose-build Westgate cataract centre. 

As one of the largest departments in the UK our team carries out around 64,130 procedures each year and in 2021/22 the team cared for 10,878 new patients in outpatients with a further 37,140 reviews.

In July 2021 the state-of-the-art Westgate Cataract Centre opened – a specialist hub dedicated to cataract surgery which has the capacity to perform up to 1,000 cataract procedures each month.

The centre has been designed to ensure that patients have exceptional clinical care from the expert team at the Trust. It has been streamlined to ensure that patients have no waiting – meaning that each patient will spend between just 40 minutes to an hour in the unit rather than the usual time of about 3 hours.

As well as this, in December last year the ophthalmology team partnered with Alcon to undertake the world’s first carbon neutral cataract surgery procedure. Further details about this exciting project is available in this short video.

Thank you to Tyne and Wear Archives for sharing these historic images of the Infirmary.

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