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Asepsis Consolidation: The New Normal, 1900-1930

This is a black and white photograph of the laundry at GRI, 1909GRI Laundry, 1909. Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. The second period, between 1900 and 1928, was a period of consolidation of antiseptic and aseptic techniques. Elaborate wound dressing and cleaning rituals developed in this period, following on from the previous, in service of the new bacteriological science. 

Hospital staff increasingly wore different types of protective clothing, including gloves and face masks; sterilisation facilities expanded so that all instruments, clothing and linen could be sterilised and all ward and operating theatres could be thoroughly disinfected; and more complex hand-washing techniques and wound care routines were developed. 

The burden of this work fell largely to women as ward servants/scrubbers, student nurses, staff nurses, sisters and matrons. Nursing became crucial to the success of aseptic practice. 

1900 Nursing probationers represent over half of the nursing staff of the large hospitals. Hospital provide their nurses with more systematic formal instruction and training in antisepsis and asepsis, tested through examinations. 

1909 Surgical rubber gloves appear for the first time as a separate line in the accounts at King’s College Hospital

1913 The new site for King’s College Hospital opens at Denmark Hill, South London. It was designed for 600 beds but only the buildings with enough space for 300 were completed due to financial pressures

1914 Bacteriology is introduced into the nursing syllabus at King’s College Hospital 

1922 King’s College Hospital launders almost 20,000 pieces of bed linen, clothes and bandages per week in an attempt to improve standards of hygiene. This accounts for 20% of hospital expenses. Laundry expenses are similar for other hospitals

1928 Alexander Fleming discovers penicillin 

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