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ARGENTINA | 12-06-2024 18:39

British Hospital of Buenos Aires marks its 180th anniversary

The Hospital Británico de Buenos Aires (British Hospital of Buenos Aires) can trace its roots all the way back to 1844 and its creation as an institution to care for what was then Argentina's largest foreign community. Since then it has pioneered new medical technology and expanded its patient base, all with an eye on the future.

Few institutions in Argentina can afford to say that they are turning 180 years old, least of all in the healthcare sector. Yet this week – June 11 specifically – marked nearly two centuries since the “Dispensario Médico Británico” (“British Medical Dispensary”) first started operating from inside a large house on Avenida Independencia 15, San Telmo. 

In 1844, this was where sick people from what was then the biggest foreign community in Argentina flocked. Today, in 2024, some 1.5 million patients visit one of the institution’s six buildings every year, where they are cared for by some of the 3,000 staff employed across its different healthcare teams.

El Británico,” or “HB,” is the dean of the community hospitals in Argentina, and is part of a small group of similar counterparts, including the “Italian” and the “German.” Other healthcare institutions, such as the “French” or “Spanish,” have declined due to social and economic circumstances and are now managed by the PAMI public health insurance programme.

What has allowed the British Hospital to traverse 18 decades of complex Argentine history? A host of different decisions, chief among them being its status as a non-profit civil association and its constant push for new technology and sophisticated medical care. 

The institution has also focused on teaching: its nursing school was created in 1890 and is still running thanks to an agreement with the Universidad de Buenos Aires. More than 2,400 nurses have graduated in its 134-year history. In addition, many medical residencies are also completed at the institution – as of today, over 1,000 healthcare professionals have gone through that key training stage across 34 different specialities.

This educational side of the Hospital Británico comes in addition to research applied to develop or fine-tune new treatments. Tradition in this field also dates back a long time.

Dr Pablo Young, the hospital’s Director of Teaching and Research and an enthusiast of the history of medicine, revealed that “in 1848, at what was then a dispensary, the first major surgery was conducted in hospital under general anaesthetic in Argentina.”

The operation was performed by Dr John Mackenna, who used ether to anaesthetise a trauma patient. This happened only a couple of years after this tool was first used in medicine in the United States.

Much later, the hospital pioneered the first cochlear transplant and the first laparoscopic colectomy.

Dr Alejandro Khon, the British Hospital’s medical director, said in an interview that the hospital’s desire is “to have the finest physicians caring for people.”

“The prescription is a proper dose of two components: stimulating permanent updating and mixing patient care with scientific research,” he added.

This is no minor matter and that is why the headquarters of the British Hospital is becoming a “quaternary” complex centre. That is, covering anything from organ transplants to brain surgery. 

Above all, the hospital’s authorities are seeking to become a translational medical centre.

“That is, we look for novelties from laboratories doing basic science and we attempt to apply them to clinical problems in everyday afflictions,” said Khon.

In that sector, according to Khon, oncological treatments and pioneer Phase I and II trials are becoming increasingly important, in gene therapy for infrequent pathologies.

Progress, however, does not replace tradition. Some historical elements, such as the ‘five o’clock tea’ with scones (still served today), have managed to survive Argentina’s successive crises.

Dr Mariana Sciarretta, the Hospital Británico’s business director, also highlighted the rise in so-called “medical tourism,” where patients from other countries come to receive care at renowned Argentine centres. 

“This is usually associated only with plastic surgery, but we also get medical tourists seeking second opinions on complex diseases, oncology cases, innovative eye surgery, among others,” she explained. “Where do patients come from? From Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and other Spanish-speaking countries.”

“In order to face the next 180 years, we intend to build a state-of-the-art building: 5,000 m2, three storeys high, which will demand an investment of some US$8 million,” added Juan Irigoin, the institution’s general director.

Construction on the new “surgical ward” will begin soon. “Today we perform some 18,000 operations every year, but with the new building, which will contain some 10 ultra-modern theatres, we’ll be able to have more efficient and safer operations,” said Irigoin.

“We’ll be able to increase the number of operations and also to have more beds for common hospitalisation and therapy,” he added.

At “El Británico,” one of the oldest hospitals in Buenos Aires, the past intermingles with the future. 

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Enrique Garabetyan

Enrique Garabetyan

Redactor especializado en Ciencia, Salud & Tecnología.

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