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Birth and early life


The hospital environment: St George's Hospital garden
Harold Lambert Physician
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Something I'd like to mention which I feel very proud of which is that when I retired, Joan and I thought that St George's Hospital was an extremely inimicable place to human life. It's sort sensory deprivation experience: blocks, corridors leading; where could they lead but to dying and awful things? And, in fact, years before I retired one of my daughters was doing a holiday job there and, you know, she was, I suppose, probably a late teenager Jane, you know her and she came back and said to us, said to me, 'Dad, didn't they know there'd be ill people around that place?' which, you know, bang on the nail, isn't it really? So we created a garden, and it was quite interesting the process in relation to people. There were various squares within the hospital, and there'd been the odd tree here and there and the odd bit of grass. And we thought: herb garden, medicine, we thought bit too academic and anyway it's Tooting, it'll be ripped up in no time by the local people. And then we thought Japanese garden bit too sort of precious. What we wanted was water and some blowsy leaves. And we, we went into a bit of studying various designers and we got a chap who seemed to be on the right wavelength and this garden's been a huge success.

[Q] How wonderful, Harold.

It's, you know, I really do feel, whatever about the medicine, I feel that's a great thing to have done.

[Q] Wonderful. How wonderful.

And it's really patients go out there. One of my former housemen, a very nice girl I shouldn't say girl these days, should I, woman had a very bad back. I mean, bad enough to be actually laid up with it. It was after she'd, was on our firm and she, we met her somewhere with her husband and she said, 'You know, they wheeled me out in that garden. It made all the difference'. And the staff use it a lot as well. Unfortunately, often, because they can't smoke in the hospital and Joan and I have had a huge battle about cigarette ends it's officially no smoking like the rest of the place, but people do. I mean, the locals steal the fish and rip up the pump and stuff but it's, you know. As you know, if anything moves it gets stolen; but, no, that's a slight exaggeration actually it's on the whole okay.

[Q] But I think that being far away from those things in a hospital bed is very, is, is compounding the problem, isn't it? I, I mean, I'm sure we bring in flowers, we bring in fruit and that's an attempt to make that a personal space that's yours, but I think it's a terribly hard, terribly hard one.

Yeah, it is, that's the trouble.

[Q] I remember, leading me to think that actually, that the old adage: first do and no harm is actually almost a definition of medicine, isn't it? That actually, you know, it just simply by identifying yourself as a patient you may be on the way to getting better, but actually that's, a, you're already having to guard against the harms that that may lead to, whether it's giving up hope or whether it's, you know, turning yourself into someone different or such like. So it's intrinsic that we have to keep going. It's not just a question that we'll do good and we'll avoid that. We can't avoid, we can't avoid doing that harm, and so it's back to your clear idea of balance.

Yeah, I do see that.

[Q] Would the, the idea of gardening in hospitals or gardens, gardens around hospitals be something that you'd, you'd want to spread around?

Oh, I would, I really would. Yeah. The, there's only one chief gardener and he's now gone, a very nice guy who we know well because we sometimes go and we look at it with a critical eye and discuss it with him, even now. He has... doesn't have much help, but spreading around has actually happened within St George's. Now there are many more areas which are either gardens or pleasant greeny looking places and it has spread out even on that side. And, of course, art in hospitals has become a big deal, hasn't it, big thing; people think about...

[Q] Yes. But we need to influence architects, don't we, and managers and to think that this is an essential part of it, not just an optional extra.

As you have done in your own, at your own hospital you created.

British doctor Harold Lambert (1926-2017) spent his career tackling infectious diseases, helping in the development of pyrazinamide as an effective treatment for tuberculosis. He also published work on the rational use of antibiotics and was a trustee and medical advisor for the Meningitis Research Foundation.

Listeners: Roger Higgs

Roger Higgs was an inner city GP for 30 years in south London, UK, and is Emeritus Professor of General Practice at Kings College London, where he set up the department.

He gained scholarships in classics at Cambridge but changed to medicine after a period of voluntary work in Kenya in 1962. He was Harold Lambert's registrar for 18 months in the early 1970s, the most influential and exciting episode in his hospital training. He set up his own practice in 1975. He helped to establish medical ethics as a practical and academic subject through teaching, writing and broadcasting, and jointly set up the 'Journal of Medical Ethics' in 1975.

His other work included studies in whole person assessment and narrative in general practice and development work in primary medical care: innovations here included intermediate care centres, primary care assessment in accident and emergency departments, teaching internal medicine in general practice and establishing counselling services in medicine.

He was made MBE in 1987 for this development work and now combines bioethics governance, teaching and writing with an arts based retirement.

Tags: St George's Hospital

Duration: 4 minutes, 29 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008