Our Local Landmark: Inside RPA Hospital

June 5th, 2020 - by Brad Gillespie

Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, known as RPA, has helped many locals, pioneered some incredible medical advances, and is also the star of a long-running TV show.

Let’s go behind the scenes to find out more about this incredible medical establishment.

Where RPA all began

Not many hospitals start due to the attempted assassination of a royal, but the shooting of Prince Alfred in Sydney in 1868 was actually the catalyst for RPA Hospital to open.

While visiting Sydney as part of a world tour of British colonies, Prince Alfred was shot at close range by a young Irishman. He was quickly rushed to Government House where he was operated on by a team of British surgeons, who removed the bullet. Sydneysiders launched an appeal to raise funds to build a hospital in the Prince’s honour, and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital opened as a 142-bed hospital in 1882.

In an interesting twist, one of the British surgeons who operated on the Prince was Dr Isaac Waugh, who later returned to settle in Sydney. His son Richard and grandson Peter both became doctors and his grandson, Dr Richard Waugh, is the current head of radiology at RPA.

These days, RPA is a worldwide leader in healthcare and innovation and treats more than 1000 patients every day. It’s also the principal teaching hospital for the prestigious University of Sydney and was the first ever teaching hospital in NSW.

A coronavirus leader

Designing and building an intensive care unit is no small task, but RPA recently constructed one… in a week. Covid Red is a dedicated ICU for coronavirus patients and while it hasn’t seen much of an influx yet, it’s there in case things escalate.

The hospital also launched Australia’s first virtual hospital in February, which has recently been overhauled to manage Covid-19. Daily telehealth appointments and wearables to monitor a patient’s vital signs are all part of RPA Virtual, which is expected to be useful during flu season, too.

A pioneer in medical research

RPA has pioneered a huge range of cutting-edge advances over its 138-year-history. The first use of a heart-lung bypass machine, the first ever fitting of a pacemaker and the first ever open heart surgery were all performed at RPA.

There have been other medical firsts too. RPA conducted Australia’s first liver transplant and aortic valve replacement. Its staff contributed to the country’s first foetal heart monitor. And the hospital was also the first in Australia to open a nuclear medicine department, sleep disorders centre – and the Southern Hemisphere’s only training institute for robotic surgery. RPA is even responsible for the design of a double humidicrib to help safely deliver twins to other hospitals.

And the world class care is set to continue given the hospital has been earmarked for a $750 million redevelopment. There are plans for an expanded emergency and imaging department, larger operating theatres and an extra 300 beds.

A small screen star

TV fans will of course be familiar with the hospital thanks to the popular documentary series, RPA, which went behind the scenes to reveal the inner-workings of the hospital.

The show ran for over a decade until 2012 and recorded operations, providing commentary from doctors along the way. It also revisited patient stories in a spin-off series, RPA – Where are they now? While the original show is no longer on free to air, you can still watch episodes here.

Want to know more?

Don’t forget to check out the free RPA Museum, which was founded in 1933 and is dedicated to preserving the hospital’s cultural heritage. It features archival records that span 1868 to the present and its display rooms are situated in original 1941 heritage-listed operating theatres!

You can also go on a self-guided walking tour of the hospital and a medical heritage trail – contact the museum for more information. Like to donate to the hospital? Click here.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this behind-the-scenes peek of one of Australia’s best-loved hospitals – one that inner city and inner west residents feel very lucky indeed to have on their doorstep. Got a question about the local area? Feel free to get in touch.

Photo Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Prince_Alfred_Hospital