In founding St Christopher’s in 1967, Dame Cicely Saunders made an extraordinary contribution to alleviating human suffering.
The hospice has been a centre of innovation and insight ever since.
The first patient was admitted on 13 July 1967 and the official opening followed shortly after on 24 July 1967.
Explore our history
Find out more about our founder and the other voices that shaped us
Key milestones in our history
Hospices before St Christopher’s
Led by Dame Cicely Saunders, we set out to discover practical solutions and to disseminate them widely. There were, of course, other hospices before St Christopher’s. These hospices were oases of dedicated nursing care for the terminally ill, but they were not what we now think of as modern palliative care. In contrast, we were committed to education and research, as well as excellence in clinical care.
Dying in hospitals
By the 1950s, social trends were changing, and most people died in hospitals rather than in their own homes, reflecting the growing number of treatments available in hospitals. The medical profession increasingly saw death as failure.
Cancer was the most feared diagnosis. Physical pain afflicted at least three quarters of cancer sufferers and appropriate painkillers were rarely used. Morphine was considered addictive and dangerous.
Modern hospice movement
This combination of science, care and sharing of experiences identified the opening of St Christopher’s Hospice.
A holistic approach, caring for a patient’s physical, spiritual and psychological wellbeing, marked a new beginning, not only for the care of the dying but for the practice of medicine as a whole.
A group of supporters for Saunders’ vision of St Christopher’s was meeting regularly and had raised over £330,000 to build a modern research-led hospice.
First patient admitted
Our first patient, Mrs Medhurst, arrived.
St Christopher’s Hospice opens
Our patron, Princess Alexandra, officially opened the hospice.
We were running three inpatient wards of 18 beds each, an out-patient clinic, and a wing for longer-term residential care.
Staff at St Christopher’s pioneered the world’s first home-based hospice service.
You might also be interested in:
Dame Cicely Saunders' life and work
Our exhibition tells the story of St Christopher’s Hospice using interviews with many of the people who have shaped our history
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