Main heading

Problems at the Austin Hospital in 1898

Mercury and Weekly Courier,
Friday 17 June 1898, page 3

AUSTIN HOSPITAL SCANDAL
SOMETHING PECULIAR THAT WANTS INVESTIGATING.

The Austin Hospital Committee being a body apparently not desirous of frequent publicity, reports of its proceedings seldom appear in the press, and thus the insertion of several advertisements in the "Age" recently, inviting applications for the positions of superintendent, resident medical officer, matron, head nurse, &c., created considerable surprise and a desire to learn the cause of the drastic change in management evidently contemplated.

Although certain information has been published which has served to intensify the interest of subscribers, no full statement of the aims and objects, actuating the committee in determining on dispensing with the services of several old and tried servants has been vouchsafed. It, however, appears that there was friction between a section of the committee and the managing staff of the institution for some 12 months past, and that the decision to appoint a new staff was but the outcome of past petty bickerings.

Several members of the old committee, under whose guidance the business of the institution appears to have been conducted with harmony and good results, having vacated their seats through death or otherwise, those who filled their places apparently were dissatisfied with the then existing arrangements.

Previously all subordinate appointments were made on the recommendation of the medical super-intendent or the head nurse (Mrs. Turner.) Of late this wholesome practice has been departed from, and the house committee (composed of ladies) virtually made the appointments without reference to the head officials. This, the latter complain, has created some want of discipline, which has been increased by the fact that the house committee took upon itself the responsibility of giving instructions direct to the under-nurses and domestics, and also showed a disposition to listen to the grievances, real or imaginary, of those whom they had appointed. It was only, it is alleged, when the house committee's instructions were not obeyed, that Dr. Norcott or Mrs. Turner were consulted at all.

The whole trouble, it is averred has mainly arisen from the action of the house committee in unduly interfering with the internal management of the insti-tution. A culmination in this respect occurred recently when the ladies committee instructed the engineer to carry coals to the cook. The former declined, and Dr. Norcott did not take steps to enforce the order by suspending or dismissing the recalcitrant.

For this and other such petty affairs the doctor was himself "hauled over the coals," and received what appears to be an unnecessarily severely-worded letter drawing attention to the non-enforcement of the committee's instructions, and concluding by stating "that the committee feels there should be some change in the management, and they may think it necessary to make other arrangements for the management of the institution." On receipt of this communication Dr. Norcott immediately tendered his resignation, which was accepted without delay, and he received a subsequent letter eulogistic of his conduct and conveying the intimation that the committee intended to make him a life governor in recognition of his past services to the institution.

Mrs. Turner, the house-keeper, almost simultaneously was the recipient of a letter from the secretary stating it had been decided to abolish the office of housekeeper, and to appoint in place thereof a matron and a head sister, and giving her notice to relinquish her duties on 23rd inst accordingly. Subsequently a memo was received by the deposed officials from the secretary (Mr. Turner) stating that they could apply without prejudice for the new appointments. Mrs. Turner declined to do so, but Dr. Norcott did seek to be retained, with the result that his services were finally dispensed with on the casting vote of the chairman.

In Mrs. Turner's place, Miss Kerr has been appointed matron, and Miss James, a lady who has been one month in the institution, head nurse. A general complaint is made by the committee that both Dr. Norcott and Mrs. Turner are too lenient to the staff and too indulgent to patients. This is strenuously denied by those implicated, who assert that although they retain the goodwill and loyal assistance of all the members of the original staff, they never overlook any dereliction of duty.

On the other hand some new members of the staff, appointed by the house committee, when scolded or reprimanded, manifested a desire, and often did, carry a complaint to those to whom they owed their positions.

Deep regret is openly expressed by the inmates at the approaching departure of Dr. Norcott and Mrs. Turner, and recently a deputation of patients, comprising one from each ward, waited on the doctor in company with the chaplain of the institution, the Rev. A. J. Pickering, and presented the following address, bearing 113 signatures :—

We, your patients in this institution, desire in this simple and humble manner to express our most sincere regret on hearing of your approaching departure from amongst us. We lament and deplore the event. We have ever found you ready at all times, and under any circumstances, night or day, to attend to those in distress, and your kind sympathy and courtesy has endeared you to us all, so that we feel we are indeed losing a true friend. We are not unmindful of the many discouragements you must have met with in the discharge of your onerous duties, but amidst all you have ever exercised good Christian forbearance. We hope that you may long be spared to be a blessing to your fellow creatures, and that wherever you may go the Divine Being may be your help and comfort, and that in the end He may receive you with joy into His everlasting kingdom.

The chaplain and several of the patients spoke in support of this address with such evident genuine feeling, that Dr. Norcott burst into tears, and many of the deputation were similarly affected. The pathos of the scene can well be imagined.

The competence, sympathetic kindness and unwearied efforts of Dr. Norcott to alleviate the lot of the patients, and the zeal and faithfulness of Mrs. Turner is specially referred to by the committee in its last report to the governors of the institution. The intention of the committee is, it is stated, to appoint Mr. Turner, the present secretary, to the office of superintendent and to engage a young medical man at a reduced salary, one of the inducements offered being that he will have an opportunity of gaining experience, which is not altogether comforting to the inmates, of whom there are now 121. The whole matter is most unsatisfactory and is suggestive of some underlying alterier motive on the part of some person or persons, who are not acting in the sole interests of the institution.

An official statement of the case has been made in the daily press on behalf of the hospital committee, but no valid reasons for the committee's revolutionary action are given.


Later newspaper articles refer to Dr Norcott as still working at the Austin Hospital in 1901. It appears that he did not lose his position, although Mrs Turner was not so fortunate.

Reference to the House Committee consisting only of "ladies" perhaps reflects sex role stereotyping of the times. The reader does not find out any other views on the whole matter.

That was then. As patient and friend of other patients in recent times, the editor of this site has strong admiration for the staff of the Austin Hospital.

Mr and Mrs Thomas Austin

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