Hospitals and Health

The State Records Office holds a large number of records created by the central agency responsible for health in Western Australia.

These records document the development of the State health system over time, responses to specific health related issues and oversight of doctors, nurses and other health professionals. The State Records Office also holds some records of mental health institutions, general hospitals and Local Boards of Health.

NOTE: Health records generally have a restricted access period of up to 100 years where there is patient information. Clients who wish to view restricted health records must obtain written permission from the Health Department.

Departmental Records

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The Central Board of Health was established by the Public Health Act 1886, as the governing authority for the Local Boards of Health. The functions of the Board included conducting health inspections of abattoirs, schools and factories as well as supervising and controlling the sanitary services of all Government buildings throughout the State. The Board began to be referred to as the Public Health Department circa 1904.

The Public Health Department and the Medical Department (which was mainly concerned with hospitals) amalgamated on 1 October 1906 under the Principal Medical Officer, Dr Lovegrove. The Public Health Act 1911 created the Department of Public Health under a Commissioner of Public Health, responsible to a Minister. Between 1956 and 1979, the Medical Department again separated from the Public Health Department, before a brief period of amalgamation prior to 1981 when the Department was split into the Department of Hospital and Allied Services and the Public Health Department.

On 1 May 1984, the Public Health Department, the Department of Hospital and Allied Services, and the Mental Health Services Department amalgamated as the Health Department of Western Australia.

The records of the Health Department and its predecessor and successor agencies can be located through our catalogue.

The earliest records relating to public health in Western Australia (i.e. for the 1800s) may be located in the indexes to the Colonial Secretary's Office correspondence under the headings "Lunatics" and "Medical Department". Further information on accessing the records of the Colonial Secretary's Office can be found on the Colonial Secretary's Office page.

The following are selected examples of the types of Health Department records held by the State Records Office:

Files - General, 1897-1990, Series 268 

This series constitutes the main file series created by the Central Board of Health and its successors. Topics covered by these files include: hospital construction and maintenance, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, treatment of diseases, appointments of key staff and Local Board of Health members, community health programs, and functional, policy and administrative matters.

Files - Hospitals, 1955-2001, Series 2523

Specific series of files pertaining to public hospitals under the administrative control of the Health Department of WA. The files include documentation on the acquisition, establishment, leasing of land and planning processes for hospitals.

Files - General (Occupational Health), 1958-1989, Series 65

General files dealing with occupational health issues such as pesticides, hazardous substances, asbestos, mesothelioma, carcinogens, occupational diseases and others.

Patient Cards, 1918-1955, Series 26

"Inmates" cards, containing the names and date of admission of persons resident in the Perth (Old) Men's and Women's Home, later Sunset Home, 1918-1955.

Register - Inebriates, 1913-1920, Series 1504

Register of persons admitted to mental institutions as inebriates. Names are listed alphabetically at the beginning of the volume and then chronologically, noting date of admission and name of home admitted to.

Building Permits - Theatres, Drive-ins, 1955-1974, Series 1914

Photocopies of building permits issued to picture theatres and drive-ins. Details include file no., plan no., location, description of work and date completed.

Architectural Plans - Public Buildings, 1926-1992, Series 1457

Plans of public buildings (i.e. buildings used by the public under the definition of the Health Act 1911) lodged with the Health Department in accordance with the requirements of that Act. Files relating to public building approvals may be located within the Department's General Files series.

Hospital Records

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In addition to departmental records, the State Records Office holds several collections of records transferred from individual hospitals. The number of hospital related records held by the State Records Office is limited, with only sporadic coverage of admissions and discharge records and no patient files.

NOTE: Many of these records are restricted access records. Permission to access these records may need to be obtained from the Health Department. See the Accessing Restricted Records page for information on how to apply for access to restricted records.

The following represent selected examples of the types of hospital records held by the State Records Office:

Mental Health Institutions

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In 1950, responsibility for mental health services in Western Australia was transferred from the Public Health Department to the newly created Mental Hospitals Department. Renamed the Mental Health Department in 1954, the agency remained responsible for the prevention and treatment of mental illness in WA up until 1984 when it was reintegrated with the Health Department.

Details of records held for the Mental Hospitals Department and its successor agencies can be located in the hardcopy AN 200 finding aid at the State Records Office and through our online catalogue.

NOTE: Many of these records are restricted access records. Permission to access these records may need to be obtained from the Health Department. Please see access to restricted records.

Fremantle Asylum

Care of the mentally ill in WA began officially with the transfer of ten convicts from Fremantle Gaol to a new asylum located in Scot's Warehouse in November 1857. Fremantle Asylum was completed and occupied in July 1865. The Asylum was administered jointly by the Imperial and Colonial Governments until 1886 when all control was transferred to the latter. Fremantle Asylum was closed in 1909 after transferring all patients to the Claremont Asylum.

Full listings of the records available for the Fremantle Asylum can be located through the catalogue.

Claremont Mental Hospital

Opened in August 1903, the Claremont Mental Hospital was intended to replace the Fremantle Asylum. The transfer of patients from Fremantle to Claremont took place between 1905 and 1909.

Records for the Claremont Mental Hospital are listed online.

Other Mental Institutions

The State Records Office holds records for the following institutions: Lemnos HospitalWhitby FallsHeathcote Mental Hospital and Greenplace Hostel.

Doctors and Nurses

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Unfortunately, few historical sets of staff records are available for hospitals and medical services, and the majority of those records that do exist relate only to nursing staff. Records relating to doctors employed by the Health Department and its predecessor agencies can generally only be found in the Health Department's general files series.

General files can also include appointments of members to various boards controlled by the Health Department, including Local Boards of Health.

Nursing related records may also be found within the Department's general file series, although to a much lesser extent. There are however, several surviving series of Departmental records concerned with the training of nursing staff for government hospitals. These records include the following:

  • Registers - Nurses, 1947-1970, Acc 2770, AN 120/28: Includes name, date of birth, religion, date of entry into nursing school, prior education, previous experience, next of kin, fathers occupation, marital status, address, comments, exam results. Alphabetical index for the period 1951-1970 is available for these registers at Acc 2771.
  • Record of Exam Results, 1954-1974, Acc 2772, Item 2, AN 120/28
  • Certificates Issued to General Trained Nurses, 1940-75, Acc 2773, AN 120/28

Further records relating to nurses may also be located in the State Library's Private Archives Collection, including the records of nursing associations.

Dentists

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The State Records Office holds some records relating to dentists and dental apprentices within Western Australia. These records generally refer to the registration of dentists with the Dental Board of WA.

Listings of Dental Board records are available at the hardcopy AN 245 finding aid available on the 3rd floor of the State Library / State Archives. Other files relating to dentists and the Dental Board may be found in the Health Department's general file listings.

The following are selected examples of the records held by the State Records Office.

  • Dental Board of WA, Register of Dentists, 1895-1900, Acc 1199, Items 15, AN 245/1
  • Dental Board of WA, Register of Dental Apprentices, 1897-1939, Acc 1199, Items 16-18, AN 245/1: Includes name of apprentice, to whom apprenticed and date of registration as a dentist.
  • Dental Board of WA, Records of Students, 1940-1946, Acc 1199, Item 19, AN 245/1: Includes name, dates of students passing their 1st-4th year exams and date of receipt of diploma.
  • Dental Board of WA, Registers, 1900-1920, Acc 1199, Items 23-25, AN 245/1: Gives name of dentist and date of registration.

The State Records Office does not hold dental patient records.

Local Boards of Health

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The State Records Office holds the records of many Local Council Health Boards and Health Committees. Records relating to particular Health Boards and Health Committees can be located through our catalogue.

Many of the records for Local Boards of Health can be located within the records of the Local Government authority for the relevant district, particularly in the case of the early Roads Board records. Further information can be found on our Local Government Records page.

Records relating to Local Boards of Health may also be found in the Health Department general files series.

Selected examples of these Local Board of Health records include:

  • Bayswater Local Board of Health, Inspector's Reports, 1911-1912, Acc 1030, Items 65, AN 144
  • Busselton Local Health Authority, Rate Books, 1927-1931, Acc 2872, Items 1-2, AN 36/3
  • Fremantle Local Board of Health, General Files, 1902-1914, Series 1153: Deals with infectious diseases, sanitation, building inspections, drainage and rubbish services.
  • Greenough Local Board of Health, Minute Book, 1909-1922, Acc 973, Item 21, AN 118
  • Laverton, Rate Books, 1902-1934, Series 482: Records of rates and sanitary fees collected.
  • North Perth Local Board of Health, Letterbooks, 1902-1914, Acc 2911, Item 1, AN 70
Page reviewed 5 February 2021