At the beginning of the 19th century, ophthalmology was an unknown science. That all changed in the early 1800s as many soldiers returned from the Napoleonic wars suffering with trachoma. With the epidemic as an impetus, and coupled with the encouragement of the influential London surgeon Astley Cooper, John Cunningham Saunders founded the first hospital in the world devoted to the treatment of eye disease in October 1804.
The number of patients seeking treatment steadily increased, forcing a move to a larger site in 1822 and finally to Moorfields present main site on City Road, central London, in 1899. At this time, the first specialist departments were set up (x ray and ultra violet treatment rooms) and the hospital was still operating as a charity where each patient received an admission card that read: “This letter is granted to the applicant in being poor. Its acceptance therefore by anyone not really poor constitutes an abuse of charity.”
In 1935, after a public appeal for £120,000, the George V extension was opened. This provided a new outpatient department, a new ward and an orthoptic department. During the Second World War, the hospital opened its doors to general surgical cases and most of the ophthalmic patients were evacuated out of London. Moorfields received a direct hit from a “doodlebug” in 1944 and suffered serious damage. This was so extensive that the hospital was nearly pulled down and rebuilt on a green field location. However, the site was rebuilt and in 1946 the City Road Hospital amalgamated with the Royal Westminster Ophthalmic Hospital, the Central Eye Hospital and took on the clinical facilities of the medical school for the University of London.
With the formation of the NHS in 1948, Moorfields lost its status as a voluntary hospital and in 1956 was officially named as “Moorfields Eye Hospital”. In 1950, the Sixteenth International Congress of Ophthalmology was held at Moorfields and for the first time ever TV cameras were installed in the theatres to demonstrate surgical techniques. Moorfields was redeveloped in the late 1980s allowing for the expansion into more specialist areas. The Trust responsible for Moorfields London now runs outreach community eye clinics at nine other sites where it provides a wide range of ophthalmic services.
Throughout its history Moorfields has been at the forefront of pioneering eye care and it remains one of the largest centres for ophthalmic treatment, research and training in the world. More patients in the UK go to Moorfields than to any other eye hospital or clinic because of its world-famous reputation. This is based on the expertise of its clinical staff and the cutting-edge research taking place. In fact, over half the ophthalmologists practising in the UK, and many more overseas, have received specialist training at Moorfields.
Moorfields Eye Hospital Abu Dhabi was established in 2006 to provide the same outstanding standard of care in the Middle East.