Mr Robert McMillan: Physician Superintendent

Dr McMillan
Mr McMillan

Mr Robert McMillan was Physician Superintendent and Consultation Physician at St Luke’s Hospital from 1947 until 1968.  He was born in Greenock, Scotland in August 1909, the son of James Sharp McMillan, a ship-plater and his wife, Mary Bingham.  After graduating in 1929 with a degree in Pure Science, Robert qualified as a doctor in 1939.

During the 1940s Mr McMillan was Assistant Superintendent of the City of Edinburgh Municipal and General Hospitals and also lecturer in tuberculosis at the school of Medicine of the Royal Colleges.  During this period of his working life, he submitted three articles on TB and scurvy to the British Medical Journal.

In 1947, Robert McMillan and his wife Janet, whom he had married in Glasgow in 1937, moved to Guildford to take up his new appointment as Superintendent at St Luke’s, where he faced formidable and frustrating administration problems.  Administration passed from Surrey County Council to the newly established National Health System and later in 1952 St Luke’s was joined in clinical union with the Royal Surrey Hospital in Farnham Road.  It was mooted that a new hospital should be built on the site of St Luke’s and Mr McMillan spent many hours planning this, but it was not to be.

Dr McMillan talking at a fete at St Luke's Hospital
Mr McMillan at a hospital fete in the early 1960’s. In the background (L to R) telephonist Dennis Hann, electrician Des Pettifer and fitter Bill Barrow.

Mr McMillan established the first allergy clinic in the hospital and improved the diabetic services.  He developed paediatrics and introduced closer liaison with the social services but his particular interest was in geriatrics.  He was the first to establish a geriatric unit in the area and in 1957 a symposium on the care of the elderly was held at Guildford.  Speaking at the symposium, Robert said that there was a tendency, “for old people to be lumped together in wards for the chronic sick regardless of the condition from which they were suffering.” He suggested that all students should work for a time in chronic sick wards.  He believed there was a case for making, ‘inducement’ payments to Sisters in geriatric wards.

On August 18th 1966 a fire swept through the main kitchen of the hospital during the day.  Surgeons continued with an operation only 15 yards away.  Cyril Brooks, the hospital group secretary, reported to the Times that, “Patients in wards nearby watched from windows as hospital staff and passers-by formed a human chain to save records, nurses uniforms and other stores.  Then they served the firemen ice-cream and lemonade as they worked in the sweltering heat.” The source of the fire remains a mystery but, at the time, Hospital Group painters were busy stripping the paint off the fascia boards outside the kitchen.

Fire at St. Luke's
Fire at St. Luke’s

In 1968 when Mr McMillan relinquished his post as physician superintendent, a party was held for him in Coyle Hall.  Surrounded by staff he had worked with during his years at St Luke’s, Robert McMillan heard Alderman C. E. Nicklin speak of the doctor’s many achievements including day rooms, the day hospital, Coyle Hall and the Betatron.  His interaction with voluntary organisations and his excellent organisational skills were also cited.

Mr Nicklin stated that Mr McMillan had, “changed the atmosphere of the rather grim 19th century architecture of soul-less institutional appearance.  He transformed them into cheerful, light and functionally efficient wards, so that no-one today can pass through St Luke’s without sensing that it is indeed a happy hospital-served by a dedicated team.”  The party continued, in Scottish tradition, with the piping in of a haggis and a bouquet of flowers was presented to Mrs McMillan.

Dr McMillan in cap and gown outside St Luke's Hospital
Mr McMillan in cap and gown outside St Luke’s Hospital

Although giving up his administrative duties, Mr McMillan continued to be a consultant.  He died in Surrey in 1975.

Article by Elizabeth Lloyd

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