The Devon and Exeter Hospital was founded in 1741 by a number of influential Exeter physicians and benefactors, including Dean Alured Clarke and John Tuckfield MP, who donated the land in Southernhay, where the hospital would be built. The hospital opened to patients in January 1743.
The Hospital became the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital in 1899, following a visit by the Duke and Duchess of York, later King George V and Queen Mary.
In the UK, the earliest hospitals were associated with religious communities and were often the only places where people suffering from stigmatised diseases, like leprosy, could receive help.
Secular hospitals began to open in the 18th century, staffed by trained physicians and surgeons and untrained nurses. Patients often had to pay for treatment and would not be admitted if they were suffering from an infectious disease. Hospitals were seen as dirty and unhygienic places where infection could spread easily. Those wealthy enough to employ private nurses and receive medical care at home avoided them entirely.
As understanding of how diseases spread improved, increasing emphasis was placed on the importance of fresh air and cleanliness in the sickroom, and public health reformers worked to extend these principles into hospitals. Florence Nightingale advocated for long wards with tall windows either side for cross ventilation and beds spaced a uniform distance apart to stop the spread of infection. These became known as Nightingale wards and were common in hospitals up until the 1960s.
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