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History of the Cape Town Orthopedic Department


Higher education in South Africa dates back to 1829, when various residential and teaching colleges were established in the British Cape Colony. The South African College (SACS) in Cape Town was the forerunner of the University of Cape Town.


In 1919 the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Cape was established, with Professor C.F.M. saint the head of surgery. Little was available for the long term management of physically disabled children in Cape Town at that time, and after a period of pioneering work, with difficult and constrained resources; in 1930 the Maitland cottage homes were opened to alleviate the suffering of needy children.

Due to problems accommodating non-traumatic musculo-skeletal disorders, some children were placed here. In 1939, more cottages were made available, increasing the capacity to 108 children. A school for children of the home was initiated at the site by the Methodist Mission in 1940. In 1946, A.J. Helfet was appointed honorary orthopedic surgeon, to be joined by ALEC Singer in 1952, when the new Maitland Cottage Home was opened in Newlands. The hospital has continued to provide care for long-term pediatric orthopedic patients and acts as the main non-trauma children’s faculty for orthopedic conditions as an extension of the Red Cross children’s hospital.


In 1932, emanating from the efforts of spirited groups such as the women’s hospital auxiliary, the Princess Alice home of recovery was opened in retreat. HRH Princess Alice of Athlone, the wife of the governor-general of South Africa at that time, accepted the patronage of the hospital and visited it regularly for many years subsequently.


It was later extended to include the management of elective adult orthopedics.

It became the main centre of referral for most country and district residents and extended its orthopedic services to cope with referrals from as far as the Eastern and Northern Cape Province of the time.


During the poliomyelitis epidemics, particularly in the 1950’s and 60’s, most polio victims from the cape peninsula, and surrounds, were received at princess Alice hospital, as well as at a unit specially created under the leadership of DR martin singer at the red cross children’s hospital. This yielded much of the basis for orthopedic principles and teaching, which boosted the grounding for generations of orthopedic trainees, both under- and post graduates, as well as special higher orthopedic nursing instruction.


A PAOH orthopedic surgeon in charge at the time, Dr. Brian S. Jones, became well known for his expert care of the polio affected child and other children’s conditions. He was also responsible in 1971 for the first ever description of a now internationally well recognized condition, vz. Idiopathic chondrolysis of the hip joint, which he studied at this hospital.


Due to a high incidence of tuberculosis in the local community, much experience was gained in the management of skeletal tuberculosis disease.

Regular professorial teaching rounds were done under the umbrella of the University of Cape Town Orthopedic dept, as well as regular intensive academic presentations in the teaching facility at the PAOH.

A dedicated, well staffed and highly functioning orthopedic facility came into being at the Princess Alice Hospital. Much world-class orthopedics came from here. The 1982 international world congress of the English speaking orthopedic associations was partly hosted here in the form of presentations.

The full spectrum of non-trauma related orthopedic diseases was dealt with.



A strong presence from the UCT rheumatology physicians assisted greatly in elevating the standard of care, especially after the introduction of joint replacement surgery, for which high-tech operating theatres were constructed in the 1970’s


In 1939, Groote Schuur Hospital was opened although no provision was made for an orthopedic department. Through the efforts of Drs Roux and Hamilton Bell, the committees of the Cape Cripple Care and Groote Schuur Hospital Committee, the Orthopedic department was created.


Despite the presence of H. Bell, Dr P. Roux and Dr P Moll practicing Orthopedics in Cape Town, they were inundated with service demands. It was only with the untimely death of Dr Moll in 1934 that a fund was established and offered to the university towards an Orthopedic Professorial Chair. In 1953 the “Pieter Moll and Nuffield Chair” of Orthopedic Surgery was established. Professor C.E. Lewer-Allan assumed office in January 1955.


He was succeeded by Prof G Dall (1977-1984), Prof D. Paton (1985), Prof AWB Heywood (1986-1990), Prof I Learmonth (1991-1994), Prof J Walters (1995-2012) and Prof R Dunn (2012 to present).


On 31st August 1998, Princess Alice Orthopedic Hospital was closed due to financial imperatives, as part of the rationalization of Health Care in the Western Cape. Elective Orthopedic Surgery was incorporated into Groote Schuur Hospital as a separate autonomous functional unit, the Princess Alice Orthopedic Unit.

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