Royal Brompton

A view of Royal Brompton Hospital from the street

In the beginning

In 1841, 25-year-old solicitor Philip Rose became the founder of what is today Royal Brompton Hospital.  

Rose decided to build a tuberculosis hospital when his sympathy was roused for one of his clerks who had the disease and was unable to gain admission to any hospital in London. At the time, general hospitals were reluctant to admit and treat people with tuberculosis due to the fear of the disease spreading.  

The ‘Hospital for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest’, opened in 1842, but soon out grew its original leased premises in Chelsea. Rather than extending the Manor House, as it was called, it was decided to build a hospital especially suited to the needs of tuberculosis patients. 

The Hospital for Consumption, Brompton Road, Fulham: viewed from the road. Wood engraving after F. J. Francis, 1844.

The Hospital for Consumption, Brompton Road, Fulham: viewed from the road. Wood engraving after F. J. Francis, 1844. Wellcome Collection.

The Hospital for Consumption, Brompton Road, Fulham: viewed from the road. Wood engraving after F. J. Francis, 1844. Wellcome Collection.

By the spring of 1844 a new hospital was being built on Fulham Road and by 1855 all the new wards were opened.  

South Block was later built following a substantial donation from a local resident. Opening in 1882, it doubled bed capacity.  

Further developments in patient care followed over the next fifty years, including: 

  • 1889 – the opening of a dedicated throat department 
  • 1900 – the opening of the radiology department 
  • 1904 – the opening of a sanatorium for long term patients in Frimley 
  • 1919 – the opening of a cardiac department 
  • 1934 – the establishment of a physiotherapy department, initially for ‘breathing exercises’ 

Research and innovation 

Research, innovation and education have been constant themes in the history of the hospital.  

Well known examples of Brompton innovations include: 

  • 1886 – the Brompton cough lozenge, originally a penny a box 
  • 1920s – the Brompton cocktail, a mixture of morphine, cocaine, alcohol, syrup and chloroform water, given in the painful, distressing, terminal stages of certain conditions 
  • 1980s – the Brompton pack, a ventilator developed to replace ‘iron lungs’  

Perhaps less favourably remembered, Brompton researchers examined the effect of cod-liver oil on tuberculosis and published a paper in the London Journal of Medicine in 1849 finding there was some benefit. For a hundred years thereafter, children all over the country were given daily four doses of the unpleasant tasting oil.  

In 1852, patients consumed 569 gallons of cod-liver oil at a cost of some £203 while only £308 was spent on drugs.  

A place of education and study 

In 1894 the College of Physicians and Surgeons recognised the Brompton as a place of study – foreshadowing the important role it was to play in postgraduate education. Over the course of the next century, the hospital developed into a centre for the treatment of heart and lung disease where doctors, nurses and other health professionals from around the world came to study. 

A major influence on the course of surgery 

In December 1928, Tudor Edwards performed the first, one-stage lobectomy on a patient with cancer. This would not have been possible without the assistance of Royal Brompton anaesthetist Ivan Magill. Magill was a major influence on the course of British anaesthesia during the next three decades and helped to establish thoracic surgery. 

Second World War 

During the Second World War, the Brompton was designated as one of the principle casualty-clearing stations in the area for seriously wounded cases. During the Blitz, the hospital was hit twice – the roof and upper floor of North Block (the original hospital built by Rose) were damaged by fire when bombs fell nearby, and in 1942 the nurses’ home and south wing were badly damaged by a blast from a landmine.   

After the war 

With the formation of the NHS and the introduction of drugs to treat tuberculosis, the Brompton’s focus widened to include the study of other chest conditions. In recent years the study and treatment of allergy and immunology have become particular strengths. 

In 1971, the National Heart Hospital merged with Royal Brompton and transferred all its services to Sydney Street in 1989.  

The Sydney Wing was then opened by Queen Elizabeth II in February 1991 when the hospital was granted a Royal Charter.  

Merger with Harefield Hospital 

In 1998 Royal Brompton merged with Harefield Hospital to form Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Trust. The merger led to many advances in treatment by successful cross-site working, such as transplantation for patients with cystic fibrosis. 

Merger with Guy’s and St Thomas’ 

Royal Brompton became part of Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust in February 2021. Together with Harefield Hospital,  St Thomas’ and Evelina London, we now form the largest specialist heart and lung centre in the UK and among the largest in Europe – dedicated to improving care for heart and lung patients, now and in the future.  

New Diagnostic Centre 

In 2022, a state-of-the-art Diagnostic Centre opened at Royal Brompton Hospital, featuring an interventional bronchoscopy suite and upgraded echocardiogram equipment, as well as the latest in MRI, CT and x-ray scanning. 

11 staff lined up outside the new red brick diagnostic centre

The Diagnostic Centre at Royal Brompton Hospital

The Diagnostic Centre at Royal Brompton Hospital

The new building will enable the expansion of other clinical services and research and education programmes. 

Famous firsts and innovations at Royal Brompton 

Since 1947, when the first cardiac surgery operation took place at the Brompton, the hospital has been at the forefront of treatments and technology, and pioneered many firsts, including: 

1965 – Establishing Europe’s first adult Cystic Fibrosis clinic. The hospital has since grown into the largest treatment centre for the condition in Europe.  

Pioneering the peripheral clinic system – running joint clinics at local district general hospitals to take specialist knowledge and expertise into the community. 

1984 – Investment in imaging technology has been pivotal in the treatment of heart and lung disease. Royal Brompton invested in the first dedicated cardiac MRI scanner in the UK in 1984 and undertook the first clinical MR heart scan.  

1990 – The hospital invested in an Imatron - then the world’s fastest computerised tomography (CT) scanner and the only one of its kind in the UK. Today more nuclear cardiology is undertaken at the Trust than anywhere else in the country.    

1990s – Pioneering the use of ‘closure devices’ as an alternative to surgery for children born with a hole in the heart.  

Successfully implanting some of the first ‘artificial hearts’ in Europe. 

2000 – Performing the first robotic assisted endoscopic coronary artery bypass surgery in the NHS.

Surgeons in scrubs during an operation