1 Joseph Lister, pioneer of antiseptic surgery, made his greatest discovery while working in Glasgow. In August 1861, he was appointed surgeon to the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, where he was in charge of wards in the new surgical block. The managers hoped that hospital disease (now known as operative sepsis—infection of the blood by disease-producing microorganisms) would be reduced in their new building. It did not work, initially, as Lister reported that between 45 and 50 percent of his amputation cases died from sepsis between 1861 and 1865.

2 It was on this ward that Lister began experimenting with antisepsis. He had already tried encouraging clean healing and it was in Glasgow, inspired by the work of Louis Pasteur, that he introduced carbolic acid, now known as phenol, to sterilise surgical instruments. He also began spraying phenol on compound fracture wounds, in which a broken bone pierced the skin – injuries with very high rates of morbidity and mortality, usually treated with amputation.

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3 Infections and deaths fell dramatically, because Lister’s methods helped greatly in preventing sepsis and gangrene. Despite this, his methods were not generally well received and he was met with some resistance in the medical profession. Eventually, Lister’s Glasgow discoveries came to revolutionise surgery.

4 Lister retired from surgical practice in 1893, after the death of his wife in the previous year. Created a baronet in 1883, he was made Baron Lister of Lyme Regis in 1897 and appointed one of the 12 original members of the Order of Merit in 1902. He died in 1912, aged 84.

5 Glasgow is so proud of its connection with the ‘father of modern surgery” that it erected a statue of him between the University of Glasgow and Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.