For the benefit and comfort of the sick

Model of the 'Narrenturm'

Under this motto, which still hangs over the entrance gate to the present-day University Campus, Emperor Joseph II opened the General Hospital in 1784.

Model of the 'Narrenturm'

Based on the model of the French central hospital Hôtel Dieu in Paris, which Joseph II had come across in the course of his travels, the poorhouse in Vienna was now to be rebuilt as a General Hospital. In fact the construction of a large-scale hospital was hotly debated at the time. The high risk of infection and the ‘hospital fever’, of which many patients in the Paris Central Hospital died, alarmed the Viennese doctors, and for this reason they argued repeatedly for small hospitals. The Hôtel Dieu at that time could accommodate 5,000 sick people in some 1,200 beds, which meant that three or four people had to share so-called ‘large beds’. Joseph II, who was aware of these circumstances, was concerned to ensure that each patient had his or her own bed. When the General Hospital was opened in 1784 there were 2,000 beds available for patients. The General Hospital was therefore one of the largest and most modern hospitals in Europe.

With this medical institution the transition was completed in Austria from the fragmented church and civic provision to a system of health care organized centrally by the state. The hospital was open to all, and the payment of sickness benefit led to social differentiation into a first, second and third class of patient. For the last of these a minimum level of hygiene was guaranteed. The General Hospital, on its central site, now incorporated five divisions: the General Infirmary, the Maternity and Foundling Home, the Asylum, and the Houses for Incurables, which were a type of quarantine station designed to protect the population from infectious diseases and possible epidemics.

Anita Winkler