Hospital pledges to honour snubbed IVF nurse pioneers

Louise Brown was born at the Royal Oldham Hospital in Greater Manchester on 25 July 1978 in what was the first successful case of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment.

“We must take this opportunity to make this consensus view a reality and ensure our history is not forgotten”

Nicola Firth

Nurse embryologist Jean Purdy and sister Muriel Harris were involved in the ground-breaking project but their names were not engraved on the original plaques installed at the hospital more than 40 years ago.

Previous commemorative plaques at the hospital have focussed on the work of biologist and physiologist, Robert Edwards, and obstetrician and gynaecologist, Patrick Steptoe.

The hospital has now agreed to “put the record straight” after GP and Oldham Council’s cabinet member for health and social care, Dr Zahid Chauhan, launched a campaign, which was backed by the Royal College of Nursing and Oldham West and Royton MP, Jim McMahon.

Nicola Firth, director of nursing and acting chief officer at Oldham Care Organisation, which runs the Royal Oldham Hospital, has said in an open letter, that the hospital will work with Dr Chauhan and Mr McMahon to formally recognise the whole team involved in the medical breakthrough. 

Ms Firth said: “We are immensely proud of The Royal Oldham Hospital’s heritage and the significant contribution the hospital has played in providing local healthcare to the families and communities of Oldham borough and neighbouring areas since the NHS was created.

“Everyone would fully recognise that IVF was a ground-breaking contribution to medical science and has helped hundreds of thousands of couples and families across the world since.

“We fully agree and support the need to install a commemorative plaque to recognise not only the crucial role that Jean Purdy played but also that of sister Muriel Harris.

“As we approach the 41st birthday of Louise Brown and the 71st anniversary of the NHS this month, we must take this opportunity to make this consensus view a reality and ensure our history is not forgotten.”

“They were determined that these pioneering women should not be forgotten”

Dr Zahid Chauhan

Ms Firth noted how this view was supported by the group chief nurse and NHS England’s chief nurse.

Mr McMahon said the hospital’s response to Dr Chauhan’s campaign was “fantastic”.

“Oldham has secured its place in history on many fronts and we should celebrate that,” he said.

“The response from the Royal Oldham Hospital to Mr Chauhan’s campaign is fantastic news and will see Jean Purdy and now Murial Harris celebrated for the life changing work they did.” 

Speaking of the campaign’s support, Dr Chauhan said: “Oldham has a rich history of innovation, history and community. How typical then that its hospital trust, its MP and its people should come together and celebrate two health carers who changed the world. They were determined that these pioneering women should not be forgotten.” 

zahid chauhan

Zahid Chauhan

Councillor Zahid Chauhan

Ms Purdy worked alongside Mr Edwards and Dr Steptoe to develop IVF while Ms Harris was an operating theatre superintendent who helped to establish the operating facilities needed for IVF to succeed.

Ms Harris died in 2007 and Ms Purdy died in 1985.