We look at the history and the stories behind St Vincent’s Hospital, a much-loved local institution.
St Vincent’s Hospital: the history, the fame and what you’d learn if the walls could talk
If you live in Potts Point, Darlinghurst or Paddington, you’ll know just how lucky you are to have St Vincent’s Hospital on your doorstep.
An iconic medical establishment that’s both an academic teaching hospital and a world-renowned facility for cutting-edge research, the Hospital is steeped in history and stories.
Some of its famous patients include Elton John, Dame Nellie Melba and Kerry Packer – and many notable people have died here, too, including cricketers Victor Trumper, Phillip Hughes and Prime Minister Joseph Lyons, who was the first PM to die in office after suffering a heart attack.
St Vincent’s hallowed halls and emergency department have even appeared in various TV shows. Here, we go behind the scenes to find out more about this fantastic local landmark.
A Short History of St Vincent’s Hospital
St Vincent’s Hospital opened its doors in 1870. It was founded by The Sisters of Charity, a group of nuns from Dublin who were dedicated to offering care to the poor. They’d arrived in the Australian colony in 1838 and opened a small hospital in Potts Point in 1857, but demand quickly grew and these forward-thinking nuns had bigger plans.
After receiving a Crown Land Grant and public fundraising, the Sisters were able to open a bigger, purpose-built hospital on the current Darlinghurst site, designed by architect Oswald Lewis. The De Lacy building, as the main hospital is now known, is named after one of the founding Sisters. The Order’s work has continued in the Hospital ever since and in 2013 they were honoured for 175 years of their service in Australia.
Teaching and cutting-edge research
There’s a reason why St Vincent’s Hospital has such a great reputation. As a leading medical, surgical and world-class research facility, the Hospital’s speciality units include heart and lung transplants, cardiology, cancer, AIDS/HIV, respiratory medicine, mental health and drug and alcohol services. These units are recognised globally as centres of excellence and the facility’s researchers and surgeons have developed new therapies for the treatment of many diseases – from asthma and Alzheimer’s to cancer.
The Hospital has been at the heart of many famous stories, with the first Australian heart transplant performed here in 1968. The first successful transplant was in 1982 by the late Dr Victor Chang, a world-famous cardiothoracic surgeon. Fiona Coote was one of the first patients to receive a heart at St Vincent’s; she was 14 at the time. She’s now 44 and the longest-surviving heart transplant recipient in the Southern Hemisphere.
St Vincent’s Hospital has also famously led the way since the AIDS epidemic reached Sydney in the1980s, mobilising to provide care and treatment. The first AIDS patient in Australia was diagnosed at the Hospital in 1982 – and the first illegal pilot needle and syringe program (NSP), set up by Alex Wodak in 1986, was based in the Alcohol and Drug Service at St Vincent’s. The following year, NSPs were adopted as part of NSW government policy to reduce the risk of blood-borne virus transmission. It’s thought NSPs have prevented 30,000 cases of HIV and averted 2500 deaths from HIV by 2010, as well as saving billions in health care costs.
Today, the Hospital provides front line, acute, chronic and emergency care across over 40 different medical specialities. It’s also Australia’s only integrated, multi-hospital campus.
St Vincent’s Hospital on TV
If you’re a fan of the small screen, it’ll probably come as no surprise that St Vincent’s has been the scene for numerous TV appearances – including its own TV show, no less.
Kings Cross ER, a behind-the-scenes peek at life in St Vincent’s Hospital’s busy emergency department, is an award-winning documentary series that premiered on Foxtel. It was narrated by actress Sasha Horler and holds the record as the highest-rating documentary program in pay TV history.
The Hospital has also featured in Miracle Hospital, a program showcasing the groundbreaking technology and medical techniques used to change (and save) people’s lives at St Vincent’s in Sydney, Melbourne and at The Mater Private Hospital.
Want to know more?
There’s a permanent digital and multimedia installation at St Vincent’s Hospital in the foyer of the private hospital’s new East Wing – it’s an interactive timeline of the Hospital’s history and well worth a visit.
You can also look into volunteering at the hospital – they’re always looking for great volunteers to do everything from trolley services to providing companionship to patients.