Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Royal Prince Alfred Hospital
Newborn Care



History of John Spence Nursery

  • The King George V Memorial Hospital for Mothers and Babies was built around 1940 by architect Sir Arthur Stephenson, and its beautiful facade won it the Sulman Award for Architecture. Images of mothers and babies from the facade are presented here, as well as the beautiful marble statue from the front foyer (see below).

  • John Spence, a patron of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, left a bequest of $100,000 in 1964. His son, also John Spence, a surgeon at RPAH, and his wife Val had 4 children at KGV. All children required admission to the Special Care Nursery, then sited in cramped conditions on Level 9 North.

  • John and Val were impressed with the care their babies received. James, who was born 10 weeks premature in March 1966, often needed special attention for his apnoeic episodes. Sister Singer, the charge nurse of the Special Care Nursery, and Val Spence encouraged John to direct his father's bequest toward the building of a new nursery.


  • John Spence Nursery, named after John senior, opened in November 1971 with plenty of space and enthusiasm but little of the high-tech equipment that is now part of neonatal intensive care. Then there were over 5000 births per year at KGV, and it was the practice then that all babies born by caesarean section or by forceps went to JSN for initial observation, making a large number of babies to care for. Visiting was limited, and a special observation corridor was provided for relatives to view babies through a glass barrier.


  • During the seventies, Dr Bruce Storey, the first full-time paediatrician, and Elizabeth MacKinnon, the charge sister, set a high standard of care. During this time, new knowledge and technologies, such as ventilator therapy, improved the survival of small premature infants. This increased the workload and paediatric residents were needed to help the lone registrar. Nursing education was advanced with the new Neonatal Intensive Care Course in 1973. In 1979 David Henderson-Smart was appointed as the first Director of Neonatal Intensive Care.


  • Next the intensive care area was refurbished to allow 7 ventilator beds, and a parents' room was provided as well as improved storage and cleaning areas. In 1988 an observation nursery was opened in K7 West to provide a more tranquil `growing up' area where parents could develop the confidence needed to make the transition to home. Parents are now helped during this important period by our Neonatal Discharge and Family Support team.


  • In October 1990, the Department of Perinatal and Fetal Medicine moved into its current location on the seventh floor of King George V Hospital. The area was opened by the Minister for Health, Hon. Peter Collins M.P., on the 30th October 1990. Providing not only office space for medical and ancillary staff but also a library and rooms for Out Patient and Follow-up Clinics. This area also provides rooms for the specialised research conducted by the members of the department.


  • A major renovation of John Spence Nursery was undertaken in 1992, being completed in early September. The intensive care nursery had been housed in K7W nursery at reduced capacity during this time. In the month following the move, an eighth ventilator cot was officially commissioned to help meet the demand for neonatal intensive care cots in NSW. Families with infants in the John Spence Nursery now had improved facilities, with a small waiting area at the nursery entrance, a larger and more comfortable room for parents, and a breastfeeding area. Staff working in the nursery now do so with reduced noise levels and additional space, in a fresh and new environment. The nursery was officially opened by Colleen Fahey, the Premier's wife, on the 28th October 1992.


  • A new, exciting chapter for the unit began in November 2002 with relocation to a brand-new, state-of-the-art nursery, as part of the RTP (Resource Transfer Program). Following months of planning and preparation, Maternal and Neonatal services moved simultaneously, without a hitch, on 22/11/2002. The spacious and well designed delivery rooms and post-natal wards have proven to be highly popular, and bookings have been running at maximum capacity (and beyond). The combined service is now known as RPA Women & Babies, and the neonatal service is now called RPA Newborn Care.