What does a stethoscope, microscope, museum and political change in medical law have to do with Worcester? Sir Charles Hastings was born in 1794 in Ludlow, the sixth son, and vowed "to devote his life to Worcestershire" and this he did, and to a wider area too! Hastings died 150 years ago and in his life he witnessed the introduction of railways, Worcester's sewage system, coronation of Queen Victoria and - medically speaking - the invention of the stethoscope and anaesthetics which revolutionised the diagnosis and treatment of patients' illness.
In 1810 Hastings began an apprenticeship as an apothecary in Stourport-upon-Severn and after qualifying his employers persuaded him to apply for the job as apothecary at Worcester General Infirmary under the new title of House Surgeon. A vote by the 263 subscribers of healthcare from the infirmary was to settle it and Hastings competed against an experienced James Lewis, while Hastings was only 18. He won by one vote and from then devoted his skills and talents to the area with Worcester as the epicentre. In his second year in the job he founded an anatomical museum in the building and introduced a new note taking system. While working at the infirmary he became interested in becoming a physician. He went to Edinburgh - one of the best medical schools in Europe - and did so well he was offered a job there. He used a microscope to help his understanding of anatomy in humans and animals and was the only student with such equipment.
Returning to Worcester he made his commitment to the county and was an honorary physician at Worcester General Infirmary for the next 46 years. In 1820 - only four years after Laennec invented the idea, Hastings used a stethoscope to listen to hearts and lungs of his Worcester patients. Until this point doctors would press their ear to the patient's chest, not always the most modest of behaviours!
Hastings' curiosity, innovative thinking and desire to understand patients and their illnesses better would have contributed to his energy to help establish the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association in Worcester 1832. An organisation of paying doctors from across the country, they began to publish a regular journal containing their discoveries for new techniques to treat illnesses and also a place to share thoughts, ideas and communicate with like-minded individuals. The PMSA soon grew in popularity becoming national and renamed, British Medical Association, an organisation still putting knowledge and patient care first through their work as a trade union for doctors.
The success of the Association and public events which Hastings attended meant he came to the notice of the Court of Queen Victoria. He was invited by the Court to sit on a new public body which was set-up after the 1858 Medical Act on which Hastings had advised. The General Medical Council was established to maintain standards and make sure those claiming to be a doctor, were trained and qualified to do the job. In the mid-1800s there were many 'quack' doctors around selling their 'river-water potions' to people who could not afford a consultation with a real doctor. The GMC and BMA were significant milestones in medical history influenced by Hastings which ensured medical knowledge was being shared widely to benefit patients, doctors and the country alike.
Hastings lived in 43 Foregate Street in Worcester, a blue plaque confirms this house as one of strong medical pedigree. Dr John Wall who founded Worcester Infirmary - and later founded of the Royal Porcelain Works - also lived in the house, 70 years before.