Our history

Trailblazers in children’s healthcare, Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) has been fighting for seriously ill children for almost two centuries.

A black and white photograph from 1936, showing Princess Tsahai as a nurse at GOSH.

Princess Tsahai as a nurse in 1936

GOSH (then known as The Hospital for Sick Children) opened its doors at 49 Great Ormond Street on Valentine's Day 1852 with 10 beds. Since then it has become one of the world’s leading children’s hospitals and the home of vital advances in paediatric medicine and care, the impact of which has reverberated across both the UK and the globe.

The hospital is born

Great Ormond Street Hospital was founded by Dr Charles West, who was driven by the shockingly high level of infant mortality in London. It was the first hospital in the UK dedicated solely to the treatment of children.

GOSH started life in a 17th century townhouse with just 10 beds and two physicians. Since then, the hospital has been in a constant state of redevelopment to update ageing wards and enable us to provide increasingly innovative treatment. This includes the pioneering Zayed Centre for Research into Rare Disease in Children, which was completed in 2019.

Read about some of our other redevelopment highlights.

Breakthroughs and innovations

GOSH has been at the forefront of countless innovations: from developing nursing training in the late 19th century and opening the UK’s first Leukaemia Research Unit in the 1960s, through to today’s breakthroughs in gene therapy and its pivotal role in the national management of COVID-19.

Here’s a snapshot of some of our breakthroughs and ‘firsts’:

  • 1928 - GOSH appoints Denis Browne, the UK’s first consultant paediatric surgeon.
  • 1934 - GOSH was the first hospital in the UK to obtain the Drinker Respirator (also known as an ‘iron lung’) to treat polio. This device helped to expand children’s lungs, allowing them to breathe and providing an alternative to frequent surgery. It was subsequently loaned out to other hospitals.
  • 1947 - The hospital’s heart and lung unit opens, the first of its kind in the UK.
  • 1950s - Richard Bonham Carter and David Waterson establish the GOSH Thoracic Unit, the UK’s first joint medical and surgical ward devoted to diagnosis and treatment of children with chest and heart diseases.
  • 1959 - The UK’s first children’s neuroscience unit is established at GOSH under neurosurgeon, Kenneth Till’s lead. Thanks to Till’s commitment, children with brain tumours, lesions, severe epilepsy or hydrocephalus could receive life-saving surgical care for the first time.
  • 1961 - The UK’s first leukaemia research unit opens at GOSH.
  • 1962 - The hospital pioneers the first heart and lung bypass machine for children to help repair heart problems. By 1967, 60 per cent of infants with severe heart and lung problems were surviving.
  • 1970s - GOSH immunologist Professor Rolan Levinsky develops a technique to isolate vital immune cells in the blood, extracting working immune cells from a healthy donor and transplanting them into a child.
  • 1977 - Billy Butlin helps to raise funds to purchase the UK’s first paediatric CT scanner and GOSH is the first in the UK to have its own CT scanner suite, opened by the Queen in 1977.
  • 1988 - Professor Marc de Leval sets up the transplant unit at GOSH thanks to a £200,000 fundraising appeal. It’s one of the first centres in the UK to carry out life-saving transplants on children with heart failure. Today the programme is one of the largest in the world, performing around 20 heart and lung transplants a year.
  • 1992 - GOSH researchers help identify the first genetic cause of life-threatening immune diseases.

A royal visit from the Queen in 1952

  • 1998 - Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity becomes a separate legal entity from the hospital.
  • 1999 - Dr Paul Veys develops a kinder bone marrow transplant with less intense chemotherapy, helping children too sick for standard doses of drugs.
  • 2000 - World’s first gene therapy trials begin for children with severe combined immuno-deficiency syndromes.
  • 2001 - Immunologists Professor Bobby Gaspar and Professor Adrian Thrasher spark a groundbreaking programme of research into gene therapy, a technique where a faulty section of DNA (a gene) is replaced with a working copy. The team began a trial that would become the second-ever successful trial of gene therapy for any disease anywhere in the world.
  • 2010 - GOSH undertakes the world’s first stem cell supported tracheal transplant in a child.
  • 2012 - The hospital opens Europe’s first research centre to tackle birth defects, the Newlife Birth Defects Research Centre.
  • 2015 - GOSH immunologist Professor Waseem Qasim uses CAR T-cells to treat a one-year-old patient with ‘incurable’ leukaemia. His incredible world-first sparks a new wave of CAR T-cell research around the world.
  • 2018 - GOSH and University College London Hospital conduct the UK’s first pioneering surgery to help reduce the long-term symptoms of spina bifida, operating on a baby while still in the womb.

You can learn more about our pioneering work by reading our breakthroughs in children's medicine guides.

Helping in the fight against COVID-19

From the beginning of the pandemic, GOSH played an integral role in the national management of COVID-19. Among other projects, the hospital was part of rapid initiatives to study and track the genome of SARS-CoV-2, helping to guide the Government’s response to the pandemic.

It explored the first human challenge studies to find a vaccine and manufactured a batch of the virus at the Zayed Centre for Research into Rare Disease in Children. Also, clinicians and researchers at GOSH and UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health (ICH) led the world’s largest study on Long COVID in children. Doctors and scientists at GOSH and ICH have also led on an international study revealing how unborn babies may be protected from the virus.

Staff at GOSH

The charity and our supporters

Our extraordinary hospital has always depended on charitable support, since it opened its doors in 1852. GOSH has a long history of fundraising - prior to becoming part of the newly-established NHS in 1948, it was known as a voluntary hospital, running fundraising campaigns for new buildings from the 1850s onwards.

In the early decades of the NHS, private fundraising was heavily restricted, but the hospital was allowed to continue receiving legacies. In 1982, when the government relaxed restrictions on charitable fundraising by individual hospitals, GOSH initiated the hugely successful national Wishing Well Appeal of 1987-8 - raising £54 million to fund the Variety Club Building.

Now, while the NHS meets the day-to-day running costs of the hospital, GOSH relies on support above and beyond this to provide the best care, expertise and facilities.

GOSH has been generously supported by so many over the years, including notable individuals such as JM Barrie (who donated the rights of Peter Pan to the hospital in 1929), Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria and Diana Princess of Wales.

We are so grateful to all of the people and organisations who support us by: