The Royal Postgraduate Medical School
(RPMS) was an independent medical school
A medical school is a tertiary educational institution—or part of such an institution—that teaches medicine. Degree programs offered at medical schools often include Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, Bachelor/Doctor of Medicine, Doctor of Philosophy, master's degree, or other post-secondary...
, based primarily at Hammersmith Hospital
Hammersmith Hospital is a major teaching hospital in West London. It is part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, and is associated with the Imperial College Faculty of Medicine...
in west London. In 1988, the school merged with the Institute of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, and in 1997 became part of the Imperial College School of Medicine
The Imperial College School of Medicine is the medical school of Imperial College London in England, and one of the United Hospitals....
The medical school had its roots in the British Postgraduate Medical School, based at Hammersmith Hospital. It incorporated by Royal Charter
A royal charter is a formal document issued by a monarch as letters patent, granting a right or power to an individual or a body corporate. They were, and are still, used to establish significant organizations such as cities or universities. Charters should be distinguished from warrants and...
in 1931 and opened in 1935. It was the result of recommendations by the Athlone Report of 1921, and was a pioneer institution of postgraduate clinical teaching and research. The school had always been closely linked with the Hammersmith Hospital and the Medical Research Council
The Medical Research Council is a publicly-funded agency responsible for co-ordinating and funding medical research in the United Kingdom. It is one of seven Research Councils in the UK and is answerable to, although politically independent from, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills...
, where its teaching research and clinical work were carried out. Senior academic staff of the school provided consultant services and academic leadership for Hammersmith Hospital. The RPMS has had an enormous influence on British Medicine and had a major role in developing Endocrine Surgery in the UK.
The school became part of the British Postgraduate Medical Foundation in 1947, and was known as the Postgraduate Medical School of London. In 1974 the school became independent, with a new charter and the title Royal Postgraduate Medical School. Its separate status ended in 1997 with the assimilation into Imperial College London. Hammersmith Hospital is now a district general hospital and is still a centre of postgraduate medical education and research, although its influence is much less than in the past.
An article entitled 'Human Guinea Pigs: A Warning' published in 1962 in the journal Twentieth Century
by Maurice Pappworth
Maurice Henry Pappworth was a pioneering British medical ethicist and tutor, best known for his 1967 book Human Guinea Pigs, which exposed the unethical dimensions of medical research. Born and educated in Liverpool, Pappworth graduated as a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery in 1932 from...
, a Liverpool-born physician, caused public alarm and bitter controversy among members of the medical profession. It highlighted many unethical practices regarding human experimentation at the postgraduate medical school. According to Pappworth, often harmful experiments had been carried out without valid consent on notably vulnerable patients, such as children and the mentally ill. Research which included cardiac catheterisation and liver biopsy
Liver biopsy is the biopsy from the liver. It is a medical test that is done to aid diagnosis of liver disease, to assess the severity of known liver disease, and to monitor the progress of treatment.-History:...
experiments had included patients' having their insulin withheld for two days, during which time they became, and felt, ill.
A number of physicians who had travelled from Australia and New Zealand to seek membership to the Royal College of Physicians were shocked to be confronted with the situation as described by Malcolm Watson, who had secured a post at the British Postgraduate Medical School in 1953:
To tell [not ask] a patient that “we are going to do some test to see how your ulcer is getting on”, then spending half a day catheterizing him [...] [in order to sample] the effects of medication seemed highly dishonest, if not illegal.
- Roelcke, V., Maio, G. (eds.), Twentieth Century Ethics of Human Subjects Research (Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart, 2004), p. 181.