This is the sixth in a series of articles on the building and opening, in September 1883, of the Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire Infirmary and Dispensary. It draws on records held at Glamorgan Archives.
The House Surgeon
Philip Rhys Griffiths was 27 when appointed as House Surgeon at the Infirmary in June 1882. The son of a surveyor from Aberavon he was a Bachelor of Medicine, having trained at University College Hospital, London. The House Surgeon was the only salaried full time doctor at the hospital and it was a demanding and arduous role. Philip would have had oversight of all inpatients, usually at least 60 at any one time. He dealt with admissions, conducted daily ward rounds and was on call at all hours. He was also at the beck and call of the 4 honorary surgeons and physicians, being required to keep them informed of the progress of their patients and ensuring that any facilities and equipment that they required were available on the days that they visited the hospital.
The House Surgeon attended to all emergency cases brought to the infirmary. The industrial boom in Cardiff produced many casualties. Amongst many others, Philip would have treated 6 year old William Bryant who was run over by a horse drawn tram, an accident witnessed by David Morgan, the draper, from the Hayes. He also attended John Cody who had fallen from a gantry in the Commercial Dry Dock, badly injuring his back and legs.
To add to his load he also visited outpatients unable to attend the infirmary. This was a hangover from the days when only a dispensary service was available. Plans were afoot to encourage families to pay weekly into an insurance scheme that would provide home care. However, the records show that in this period the House Surgeon was still making home visits.
Finally he also held the key to the ‘dead house’ and was responsible for ensuring that bodies of the dead were collected by their relatives. In light of the demands of the job it is hardly surprising that the House Surgeon was required to live on the premises and not engage in private practice. Any absences had to be agreed by the Infirmary’s Management Committee and only after a locum had been found. For all of this Philip received a salary of £100 a year plus …board, washing and furnished apartments.
It was almost inevitable, therefore, that the House Surgeon was at the centre of life at the Infirmary. Philip Rhys Griffiths certainly threw himself into all aspects of the role. In addition to his daily duties he sang for the patients as part of the entertainment provided on Christmas Eve, and as secretary he organised the annual charity ball that was so important in raising money for the Infirmary. He was also a close ally of the formidable Matron Pratt, supporting her campaign for improvements in the training and accommodation provided for nurses. It must have been disappointing, therefore, when his case for the appointment of an Assistant House Surgeon was met with the suggestion that this could be accommodated if he sacked the Infirmary’s only dispenser who managed the supply and provision of medicines to the patients.
House Surgeon was a role generally occupied by newly qualified young doctors and often as their first appointment. In line with this pattern, Philip Rhys Griffiths resigned in May 1884 and left the Infirmary in August after 2 years in post. He was replaced by another young doctor, Donald Paterson, a Scot who had completed his training in Edinburgh the previous year.
It was not the last, however, that the Infirmary was to hear of Philip. He lived for most of his life in Cardiff and returned to the Infirmary four years later, in 1886, as Out Patient Medical Officer. In this role he would have been one of the three Medical Officers who dealt with the thousands of out-patients seen at the hospital each year. Subsequently he was appointed as a Surgeon, a post that he held for many years.
Philip Rhys Griffiths was a well-known figure in Cardiff with his letters were often published in the local newspapers. He travelled extensively and lectured on a wide range of topics, including the history of medicine in Wales. He also provided advice on diet and was an advocate of cold water being taken with food to avoid the …evil effects of spirits, even if taken moderately, on the digestive system. A Welsh speaker and a member of the Cymmrodorion Society, in later years he served as President of both the Cardiff Medical Society and the Cardiff Naturalist’s Society.
This article draws on the Annual Reports of the Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire Infirmary and Dispensary that can be found at Glamorgan Archives, reference DHC50. Minutes of the Management Committee for this period can be found at DHC5-6.
The photographs of Philip Rhys Griffiths have been provided by the Cardiff Naturalist’s Society. They reflect his interest in photography. He was a founder member of the Society’s Photographic Section and served as its President in 1904-05. Details of his contribution to the Society can be found at http://www.cardiffnaturalists.org.uk/htmfiles/150th-35.htm
Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer