Dr Patrick Nicoll

24 June 1864 - 25 September 1926

Patrick John Smith Nicoll was born in Rhynie, Aberdeenshire, the son of a congregational Minister, He graduated in medicine from Aberdeen University in 1887 and was awarded the further degree of MD in 1891. After working as a GP assistant in Buckie, Dr Nicoll moved to London in 1892, where he spent the rest of his long career in the highly disadvantaged neighbourhood of Stratford. The posts which Dr Nicoll held include:

  • Medical Officer to the General Post Office
  • Local medical Officer to London County Council
  • Medical Officer to West Ham Education Committee
  • Medical Officer for the Mental deficiency Act
  • Secretary of the local branch of the British Medical Association
  • Justice of the Peace for West Ham (in which capacity he was sufficiently distinguished for his photographic portrait to be held by the National Portrait Gallery)
  • Vice-President of the West Ham Rotary Club.

However, the work for which Dr Nicoll was best-known was his service developing patient care at what became Queen Mary's Hospital for the East End. This had been founded as the West Ham, Stratford and South Essex Dispensary in 1861 and following construction of an in-patient extension became the West Ham, Stratford and South Essex Hospital in 1890. A further wing opened in 1895 bringing the hospital bed capacity to 60. In 1896, Dr Nicoll was elected as Medical Officer for the hospital.

He understood how important proper management was for optimising patient care and quickly realised that despite the recent extension, the hospital's administration systems were completely inadequate for the growing population of London's east end and their medical needs. He thoroughly reformed the way the hospital was run and used his persuasive personality and talents as a fundraiser to secure finance for a further extension to the hospital which gave an additional 40 beds with operating theatre, Accident & Emergency Unit and accommodation for medical and nursing staff. When the extension opened, Dr Nicoll was appointed hospital physician, a post which he retained for the rest of his life. Dr Nicoll was also vice-chair of the Management Committee from 1916 until his death. Under Dr Nicoll's leadership, the hospital came to royal attention and in recognition of the exemplary improvement in care achieved, King Edward VII agreed to open further wards, although his death prevented this.

During the Great War, 93 beds were given over for the care of wounded servicemen and in recognition of the hospital's contribution to the war effort, King George V and Queen Mary visited in 1916, with Queen Mary becoming hospital patron. The King granted a Royal Charter in 1917 in further acknowledgement of the hospital's exemplary care and the West Ham Hospital was renamed the Queen Mary Hospital for the East End. After the war, further improvements to patient service included opening a convalescent home for children, a maternity wing and a new out-patient department, which also served as the West Ham War Memorial.

Dr Nicoll was interested not only in the medical care of the poor of London's east end but also of the rural poor of his home area of Aberdeenshire. He returned on holiday to Rhynie each year but spent much of his time accompanying the local GP on home visits to give him an idea of their living conditions, medical needs and access to medical care.

Dr Nicoll developed angina in the last 2 years of his life but continued to work and died suddenly from heart disease while on holiday at Braemar in 1926. His obituary in the British Medical Journal remarked on the very large turnout of local East Enders at his memorial service, a testament to how much Dr Nicoll's development of medical care to London's poorest through the Queen Mary Hospital was recognised and valued. Only a year after his death, Queen Mary unveiled a handsome memorial to him at the hospital.

In his will, Dr Nicoll left a substantial sum to set up a community hospital to serve the people of the Rhynie district, a remote rural area where Dr Nicoll had learned, from his visits to local patients with their GP, the extent of unmet medical need in the parish. As in London's East End, having recognised patient need he successfully resolved to meet it.

Dr Nicoll had a real lasting influence on the expansion and improvement of patient care to disadvantaged communities both in the East End of London and in Rhynie district. As well as being a physician practising to high medical standards, he was a talented administrator and highly successful fundraiser. During his lifetime his achievements were widely recognised through Royal patronage. The Queen Mary Hospital closed in 1983 and Rhynie's Nicoll Hospital in 1961.

BMJ Obituary

image: by Bassano Ltd (20 October 1923); NPG x122732 © National Portrait Gallery, London CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Biography prepared from the nomination made by Dr A Fraser to the University of Aberdeen 525 Alumni project.