Penicillin: promise, problems and practice in wartime Edinburgh

While medical historians have paid ample attention to the introduction of antibiotics and their impact on hospital-based practice during and after the Second World War, the multiple issues surrounding their use in Scottish hospitals are sorely lacking in current discussions. Drawing on an extensive yet underused range of materials including patient treatment records, oral histories and medical correspondence, this paper explores the introduction of penicillin for civilian treatment at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh during the closing stages of the War.

Current controversy: Changes to clinician attire have done more harm than good

The introduction of ‘bare below the elbows’ policies to facilitate handwashing led to the disappearance of the white coat from medical and surgical wards. While rates of key healthcare acquired infections in hospitals, e.g. Clostridium difficile and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteraemia, have fallen, argument continues around the contribution of hand hygiene and dress codes to these changes. Conversely, the number of complaints against clinicians continues to rise, and respect for medical staff is falling. Are these phenomena linked to the disappearance of the white coat?