Dundee Royal Infirmary

Dundee Royal Infirmary

Coordinates: 56°27′56″N 2°58′52″W / 56.46556°N 2.98111°W / 56.46556; -2.98111 Dundee Royal Infirmary, often shortened to DRI was a major teaching hospital in Dundee, Scotland. Until the opening of Ninewells Hospital in 1974, Dundee Royal Infirmary was Dundee’s main hospital. It was closed in 1998, after 200 years of operation.[1]



Dundee Royal Infirmary's origins lay in a voluntary dispensary founded in Dundee by Dr Robert Stewart and the local minister Robert Small.[2] This venture was seen to be beneficial to the community and, in 1793, it was proposed that an Infirmary for indoor patients should be founded. This proposal was realised in 1798 when the Dundee Infirmary was opened in King Street. At first this building housed 56-beds, but it was expanded by the addition of wings between 1825 and 1827. The Infirmary was granted a Royal Charter by George III in 1819, after which it became known as the "Dundee Royal Infirmary and Asylum". In 1820 the asylum was formally established as a separate entity in its own premises in Albert Street, and the hosipital gained its official title of "Dundee Royal Infirmary", although locals would often simply refer to it as "the DRI".[1][3]

Despite the extensions of the 1820s the King Street premises were no longer adequate by the middle of the nineteenth century. As a result, in 1852 building started on a new site in Barrack Road, which was completed and opened in February 1855.[1] The new home of the infirmary was a large neo-Elizabethan construct with a central gatehouse comparable to that of an Oxbridge College. This proved to be more expensive to build than anticipated, with the £14,000 raised for the project by public subscription failing to cover the building costs.[4] The new building was originally built to accommodate 220 patients, but it was extended several times as the hospital expanded its services.[1] Following the opening of the new building the King Street building was turned into model lodgings.[4]

Further royal charters were granted in 1877 and 1898, the former on the occasion of the opening of a convalescent home connected with the hospital at Barnhill.[5] Prior to the creation of the National Health Service, the Infirmary depended heavily on the generosity of benefactors such as James Key Caird. Donations from Caird provided the hospital with cancer and maternity facilities. [3]

During World War I part of the Infirmary was requisitioned for use as a military hospital.[6] The running of the hospital was taken over by the newly formed National Health Service in 1948.[5] A specialist Neurosurgery Department was set up in the 1960s by Joseph Block and Ivan Jacobson, who pioneered the use of advanced neuro-surgical techniques at the hospital, and officially opened in 1966.[7][8] In the 1970s, the hospital became one of the first in the United Kingdom to acquire a Catscan head scanner, when it did so under Jacobson's guidance.[8] Neurosurgery in Dundee would remain at the Royal Infirmary, only being transferred to Ninewells when DRI closed.[7]

DRI finally closed in 1998; its remaining functions were moved to the larger and more modern facilities at Ninewells.[5] The building and site were declared to be surplus to requirements by the Dundee Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and announced to be available for developement.[9] The main building, which opened in 1855, survives, having been converted for use as flats.[3]

Teaching hospital

Dundee Royal Infirmary was a major teaching hospital. It was at first linked with the University of St Andrews via its medical school located at University College, Dundee, and, after 1967, with the University of Dundee. Most, but not all, of its teaching functions were transferred to Ninewells Hospital after the latter’s construction.[10] Indeed, the arrival of Ninewells, and its usurping of DRI's role as Dundee's maj or acute care and teaching hospital would ultimately doom the Infirmary.[11]

The staff at Dundee Royal Infirmary included several notable academics. Lloyd Turton Price, who became Professor of Surgery in 1920, was noted for his excellent clinical teaching as well as his skill as a surgeon. Following his unexpected death in 1933, 2,000 people attended his funeral.[12][13] Margaret Fairlie, head of the Infirmary's Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department between 1936 and 1956, became the first woman to hold a professorial chair in Scotland when she was appointed Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in 1940.[14] Fairlie, a popular figure with both students and colleagues, retired from the University and DRI in 1956, but continued to be associated with both until her death in 1963.[15] Also based at the Infirmary was Sir Donald Douglas, who would use his research into surgical infection and wound healing to help design Ninewells Hospital. Douglas, Professor of Surgery from 1951, was considered to be an inspring teacher.[16][17]

Notable staff

Several notable medics spent part of their career working at Dundee Royal Infirmary. They included:

  • Sir Douglas Black– Chief Scientist at the Department of Health and Social Security 1973-1977, President of the Royal College of Physicians and Chairman of the British Medical Association.[18]
  • Sir Donald Douglas – Professor of Surgery at the University of St Andrews and, from 1967, at the University of Dundee and Queen's Surgeon in Scotland.[16]
  • Margaret Fairlie – The first female professor at a University in Scotland and pioneer in the use of radium in Scotland.[15]
  • David Middleton Greig – Surgeon and educator who was a globally recognised expert on the pathology of bone.[19]
  • Sir Ian Hill – Noted cardiologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of St Andrews and, from 1967, at the University of Dundee.[20]
  • Ivan Jacobson – Noted Neuro-surgeon.[8]
  • Kenneth Lowe CVO - Cardiologist noted for pioneering studies into intra-cardiac electrocardiography and Physician to the Queen in Scotland.[21][22]
  • Thomas J Maclagan – The Medical Superintendent of Dundee Royal Infirmary from 1864 until 1866. Pioneered the clinical use of thermo-meters and whose research contributed to the development of aspirin.[23]
  • George Pirie – Pioneer in the clinical use of x-rays.[23]
  • Hamish Watson – Noted cardiologist.[24]


The extensive archives of Dundee Royal Infirmary are kept by University of Dundee Archive Services as part of the NHS Tayside Archive. This collection includes patient records dating back to 1842 and hospital reports from 1826.[1] The archives also include the royal charter issued in 1819. [25]

Items from Dundee Royal Infirmary are also included in the collections held by Tayside Medical History Museum, based at Ninewells Hospital.[26] Ninewells is also now home to many of the commemorative pl aques from Dundee Royal Infirmary. These, along with other items relating to the hospital are displayed on the DRI Memorial Wall, which was unveiled in November 2008, and can be found at the entrance to Ninewell’s South Block.[27]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Archive Services Online Catalogue Dundee Royal Infirmary". University of Dundee.'Fonds'). Retrieved 12 July 2011. 
  2. ^ McKean, Charles and Whatley Patricia, with Baxter, Kenneth (2008). Lost Dundee: Dundee's Lost Architectural Heritage. Edinburgh: Birlinn. p. 67. ISBN 9781841585628. 
  3. ^ a b c McKean, Charles and Whatley Patricia, with Baxter, Kenneth (2008). Lost Dundee: Dundee's Lost Architectural Heritage. Edinburgh: Birlinn. p. 219. ISBN 9781841585628. 
  4. ^ a b McKean, Charles, and Walker, David (1984). Dundee: An Illustrated Introduction. Edinburgh: Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland. p. 74. ISBN 707303877. 
  5. ^ a b c McKean, Charles and Whatley Patricia, with Baxter, Kenneth (2008). Lost Dundee: Dundee's Lost Architectural Heritage. Edinburgh: Birlinn. p. 175. ISBN 9781841585628. 
  6. ^ Shafe, Michael (1982). University Education in Dundee 1881-1981: A Pictorial History. Dundee: University of Dundee. p. 42. 
  7. ^ a b "Professor M. Sam. Eljamel, MD, FRCS(Ed,Ir,SN),FABI Consultant Neurosurgeon". Professor M. Sam. Eljamel, MD, FRCS(Ed,Ir,SN),FABI. http://www.neurosurgery-mse.com/msamelj_006.htm. Retrieved 15 July 2011. 
  8. ^ a b c "Ivan Jacobson". The Herald. 8 Feb 1996. http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/spl/aberdeen/ivan-jacobson-1.467460. Retrieved 14 July 2011. 
  9. ^ "Dundee Royal Infirmary Development Brief". Dundee City Council. http://www.dundeecity.gov.uk/dundeecity/uploaded_publications/publication_998.pdf. Retrieved 15 July 2011. 
  10. ^ McKean, Charles and Whatley Patricia, with Baxter, Kenneth (2008). Lost Dundee: Dundee's Lost Architectural Heritage. Edinburgh: Birlinn. p. 220. ISBN 9781841585628. 
  11. ^ "History of the School of Medicine". University of Dundee. http://www.dundee.ac.uk/medschool/about/. Retrieved 15 July 2011. 
  12. ^ Lowe, Graham (December 2008-January 2009). "DRI Memorial Wall – the missing plaque". spectra: 8. http://www.nhstayside.scot.nhs.uk/staff/spectra/Spectra%2039.pdf. 
  13. ^ "A Delicate Operation: The History of Surgery in Tayside Early 20th Century Surgeons". University of Dundee. http://www.dundee.ac.uk/museum/medical/exhibitions/operation3.htm. Retrieved 27 August 2011. 
  14. ^ Shafe, Michael (1982). University Education in Dundee 1881–1981: A Pictorial History. Dundee: University of Dundee. p. 77. 
  15. ^ a b "Notable University Figures (3): Professor Margaret Fairlie". Archives Records and Artefacts at the University of Dundee. http://www.archives-records-artefacts.com/2011/08/notable-university-figures-3-professor.html. Retrieved 23 August 2011. 
  16. ^ a b "A Delicate Operation: The History of Surgery in Tayside. Innovation in the NHS Era". University of Dundee. http://www.dundee.ac.uk/museum/medical/exhibitions/operation4.htm. Retrieved 14 July 2011. 
  17. ^ Gunn, Andrew (15 March 1993). "Obituary: Professor Sir Donald Douglas". The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-professor-sir-donald-douglas-1497730.html. Retrieved 14 July 2011. 
  18. ^ "Professor Sir Douglas Black". The Telegraph. 16 Sep 2002. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1407298/Professor-Sir-Douglas-Black.html. Retrieved 14 July 2011. 
  19. ^ "A Delicate Operation: The History of Surgery in Tayside. Early 20th Century Surgeons". University of Dundee. http://www.dundee.ac.uk/museum/medical/exhibitions/operation3.htm. Retrieved 14 July 2011. 
  20. ^ Stewart, W. K.. "Vignette: a medical Odyssey Professor Sir Ian Hill (1905-1982)". MDDUS. http://www.mddus.com/media/28796/07AutumnAD23-VignetteHill.pdf. Retrieved 14 July 2011. 
  21. ^ Morkis, Stefan (18 August 2010). "Pioneering professor Kenneth Lowe". The Courier. http://www.thecourier.co.uk/Community/Obituaries/article/4019/pioneering-professor-kenneth-lowe.html. Retrieved 28 August 2011. 
  22. ^ "Prof Kenneth Lowe; physician to the Queen in Scotland". The herald. 18 August 2010. http://www.heraldscotland.com/mobile/comment/obituaries/prof-kenneth-lowe-physician-to-the-queen-in-scotland-1.1048991. Retrieved 28 August 2011. 
  23. ^ a b "Tayside Medical History Museum - Local Pioneers". University of Dundee. http://www.dundee.ac.uk/museum/medical/pioneers.htm. Retrieved 14 July 2011. 
  24. ^ "Hamish Watson". The Telegraph. 19 June 2001. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1309117/Hamish-Watson.html. Retrieved 14 July 2011. 
  25. ^ "Archive Services Online Catalogue Royal Charter". University of Dundee.'1/1/1'). Retrieved 13 July 2011. 
  26. ^ "Tayside Medical History Museum". University of Dundee. http://www.dundee.ac.uk/museum/medical.htm. Retrieved 13 July 2011. 
  27. ^ "The Dundee Royal Infirmary Memorial Wall". University of Dundee. http://www.dundee.ac.uk/museum/medical/drimemorialwall.htm. Retrieved 13 July 2011. 

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