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The history of Albert Street Anaesthetic Group

In 1952 a Specialist Faculty of Anaesthetists was formed as a division of the College of Surgeons. Fellowship was granted to some 40 members throughout Australia and New Zealand. Prior to this anaesthesia was fairly primitive and consisted of anaesthesia with Ether or Chloroform dropped on to a gauze pad, placed over the patient’s nose and mouth, administered by Hospital Resident Doctors and General Practitioners. Anaesthesia was often risky and surgical conditions were far from optimum.

With the introduction of the Faculty of Anaesthetists, Specialist Anaesthetists were now being trained at major hospitals in Australia (and the United Kingdom) in the skill of endotracheal intubation, and in the use of new muscle relaxant and other drugs to optimise surgical conditions as well as patient comfort, with rapid and safe recovery.

Albert Street Anaesthetic Group (ASAG) was founded in 1953 and is among the earliest Anaesthetic Group Practices in Australia. Founding members were Dr John Forster (The Colonel) and Dr Jim Bell, both Specialist Anaesthetists at the Royal Melbourne and Royal Dental Hospitals respectively. Colonel Forster was also a decorated officer in the British Army in WWII, having parachuted into Yugoslavia behind enemy lines, to gather information for the Allies regarding President Tito.

Anaesthetists in those days carried portable anaesthetic machines, drugs and equipment from hospital to hospital. The hospitals visited were St Vincent’s, St Andrews, Royal Victoria Eye & Ear, Mercy and Freemasons Hospitals in East Melbourne, Epworth in Richmond, Cabrini in the South and Sacred Heart, Moreland in the North.

The founding members of ASAG were joined in 1956 by Dr W.H.J. (Bill) Cole and Dr Ian McDonald and moved to premises at 342 Albert Street, East Melbourne adopting the name Albert Street Anaesthetic Group. Both Drs Cole and McDonald were associated with the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) and made major contributions to advances in anaesthesia for children. Dr McDonald introduced techniques of prolonged intubation and ventilation for babies having complex neonatal surgery and provided a service of transferring sick neonates to the Royal Children’s Hospital in his own car. This was a precursor of the current Neonatal Emergency Transfer Service (NETS). Dr Cole had a keen interest in the emerging science and practice of the Pharmacology of Anaesthesia.

ASAG has continued to have a strong association with RCH with many of its members holding appointments in its Department of Anaesthesia. The Alfred, Royal Melbourne, Royal Women’s, Mercy Hospital for Women, Austin, Monash and Western Hospitals are all well represented by members of ASAG to this day.

In subsequent decades smaller private hospitals were established in the suburbs as Melbourne expanded. New members recruited by ASAG travelled out from the city to meet the growing surgical and obstetric anaesthesia needs and demands.

In 1969 ASAG moved side by side with Melbourne Anaesthetic Group and Associated Anaesthetists to the Unitarian Church Hall at 114 Grey Street, East Melbourne. This proved a mutually beneficial arrangement for almost three decades with one phone call request for an Anaesthetist efficiently providing access to more than sixty Specialist Anaesthetists in the three groups, by secretarial staff walking a few metres door to door, before facsimile or internet communications existed.

Advances in manufacturing technology in the 1980’s and 90’s rapidly improved the safety and efficiency of delivering anaesthesia.

In 1998 ASAG moved to its current premises at 166 Gipps Street, East Melbourne.

Albert Street Anaesthetic Group members past and present have made major contributions to the Specialty of Anaesthesia in Melbourne. Involvement has been up to the highest level serving the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) and the Australian Society of Anaesthetists (ASA).

ASAG has been well served by many longstanding and loyal staff, entrusted to run our practices and assist in providing quality anaesthesia for our patients and surgical colleagues across Melbourne.

Dr Bill Cole with his portable anaesthetic machine, drugs and equipment standing outside The Royal Victorian Eye & Ear Hospital