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A history of medical administration of the hospital

Dr G Gore Gillon was the resident 'Surgeon Superintendent' when the hospital opened in Newtown in 1881. During the period 1881 - 1889, the resident surgeon's role was a combination of administrative duties and that of a modern day house surgeon and house physician. When Dr John Ewart was appointed resident Surgeon Superintendent in 1889, he took a very active role in operative surgery at the hospital, whilst still functioning as the principal administrator and as the house surgeon / house physician. Ever increasing work loads saw the additional appointment of a resident house surgeon in 1903, Dr James (later Sir James) Elliott being the first appointee.
Like Dr Ewart, his successors were surgeons who were able to deal with acute surgical problems occurring at any time of the day or night, and hence they remained 'resident'. Initially they lived in quarters above the original main entrance to the hospital until the Medical Superintendent's House was erected in the hospital grounds (in 1896), seen centre-left in the photograph below.

medical superintendent's house

The post was designated 'Medical Superintendent' from the early part of the 20th century.

In 1922, a new post was created to assist the Medical Superintendent by taking over responsibility for the 'medical patients'. Initially, this role was essentially that of 'Medical Registrar'. In 1928, the position title was changed to 'Medical Registrar and Assistant Medical Superintendent' but in 1933, it was decided that this dual role was too much for one person. The 'Assistant Medical Superintendent' position eventually developed into the 'Director of Clinical Services'. Until 1939, one of the roles of the Assistant Medical Superintendent was to "exercise general supervision over the workings of the Casualty and Outpatient Departments". Dr Albert Thorne (1934 - 1940) was the first medical superintendent to devote all of his time to administrative duties, undertaking no clinical work. Much of his time was taken up with various schemes for additions to the Hospital. As a result, Dr John Cairney was appointed as Director of Clinical Services in 1936.

Dr Cairney succeeded Dr Thorne as Medical Superintendent of Wellington Hospital in December 1940, and in May 1944 with the opening of Hutt Hospital, he became the first Superintendent-in-Chief of the Wellington Hospital Board. Subsequent Superintendents-in-Chief were Dr Richard Durand (1950 - 1956), Dr John North (1956 - 1965), Dr Caleb Tucker (1965 - 1984) and Dr Brian Corkill (1984 - 1988). There were also a number of Deputy Superintendents-in-Chief appointed, including Dr John Mercer (1941 - 1945), Dr John McCreanor (1959 - 1966) and Dr Kenneth Pacey (1966 - (1970).

There was a succession of Directors of Medical Services, Wellington Hospital, including Dr Kenneth Wardill (1970 - 1974), Dr Douglas Short (1974 - 1976), Dr Keith Cochrane, and Dr G Richard Laurenson (1980 - 1992).

From early times, the Medical Superintendent worked closely with the most senior nursing staff member, for many years designated the 'Matron', and with the Board's most senior administrative officer (for a long time designated as the Board's 'Secretary'). With the expanded responsibilities that occurred from the late 1940s, the position of 'Matron-in-Chief' was established. The Medical Superintendent-in-Chief, the Matron-in-Chief and the Secretary (later termed the Chief Administrative Officer, and from 1972, Chief Executive Officer), worked together as a triumvirate directing the administration of the Board's institutions.

The Area Health Boards Act 1983 enabled Hospital Boards to take on the local public health function from the (then) Department of Health, but it was not until 1989 that all Hospital Boards were required to make the transition. The State Services Act 1988 brought general management into the state sector, including the concept of a CEO having sole accountability for state sector organisations, including those in the health sector. Thus the positions of Medical Superintendent-in-Chief and Matron-in-Chief were disestablished.

Pending the Wellington Hospital Board becoming an Area Health Board, John Rennie, then John Yuill were appointed to an Acting General Manager position, and Dr Helen Bichan was appointed Chief Medical Officer, succeeding Brian Corkill as the Board's most senior medical officer. When Dr Karen Poutasi was appointed General Manager and Chief Executive Officer of the fully-formed Wellington Area Health Board in 1989, the Chief Medical Officer position was re-designated as that of Chief Medical Advisor.  From 2005 the Chief Medical Officer position was reinstated with the appointment of Dr Geoff Robinson.

Last updated 13 November 2016.