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Written by Toni Smith MBE, former chief nurse on the unit, with additional material from Kevin Harris and John Feehally, consultant nephrologists. From John Hopewell’s collection of Renal Unit histories.

The Renal Unit at Leicester General Hospital was established on 1st January 1974 with the appointment of Dr John Walls as the first Consultant Nephrologist in Leicestershire. Originally called the Leicestershire Area Renal Unit, the name was changed to the Department of Nephrology in the 1980s reflecting its broader work as both a clinical and research unit involved in all aspects of kidney disease. Following the death of then Professor John Walls in 2001 it was renamed in his honour as The John Walls Renal Unit.

This short history is dedicated to all those people who have touched the unit – both staff and patients – who are no longer with us. Their names are unfortunately too numerous to mention separately, but without them, the unit could not have progressed and grown over the years.

The John Walls Renal Unit, Leicester General Hospital

Up to the early 1970’s there were no facilities in Leicestershire for the treatment of people with kidney disease. People with kidney problems even those needing long term treatment for kidney failure had to travel to Sheffield or Cambridge.

In 1974 a Renal Unit was established in Leicester, and was based form the beginning at Leicester General Hospital. Originally established for Leicestershire people, the catchments area for the new Renal Unit to steadily expanded to include those from parts of Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire .

Once open, the number of patients attending the unit grew with alarming speed, and the Leicester Renal Unit becoming one of the biggest in the UK, offering a comprehensive range of treatments for kidney disease.

The success of the unit is rooted in the co-operation and close working patterns of all members of the multiprofessional team. These staff includes doctors, surgeons, nurses, renal pharmacists, dietitians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists transplant co-ordinates, technicians, computer operators, secretaries, and ward clerks, domestic staff and managers. Staff changes over the years, and the unit has gone from strength to strength, new staff bringing in new ideas, and old staff ‘keeping in touch’ and often returning after a time away.


The Haemodialysis Unit – 1980’s


Dr. John Walls took up post as the first Consultant Nephrologist to the Leicestershire hospitals, on 1st January 1974, and was charged with establishing a renal unit at Leicester General Hospital.

Outpatient Renal Clinics were set up at the Leicester General. Referrals soon came in from within the hospitals and from general practitioners and ‘business’ became brisk.

Building of the haemodialysis unit had already begun but was not yet completed. Dr Walls, appointed a renal technician, Peter Walton, who took charge of all equipment required for haemodialysis, and assisted in the commissioning of the haemodialysis unit.

In March 1974, the first patient was identified with end stage renal failure, who needed immediate dialysis. The haemodialysis unit was still not commissioned, nor a renal ward established. However, a bed was obtained on a medical ward (then ward 2 which in 2004 is the Coronary Care Unit) and the first dialysis was performed by Dr. Walls, assisted by Peter Walton and nurses from ward 2, on 17th June 1974. A haemodialysis machine was borrowed from Sheffield for this first treatment, as our own machines had not arrived.

Beds in the hospital, were fully utilized, and so it was decided to allocate 2 beds for renal patients on each of 3 wards, and within a period of 18 months it became obvious that a more permanent arrangement was needed.

Meanwhile, the haemodialysis unit was completed and opened in July 1974. It consisted of 10 stations and was supported by 2 technicians. By the end of that year, 14 patients were attending on a regular basis. One patient, Pamela Gardner, was trained to undertake the dialysis herself, and a dialysis machine was installed at home. With assistance from her spouse, on 6th December 1974 the first home haemodialysis was undertaken.

Ward 6 (which in 1987 became ward 15 when the hospital re-numbered the wards) was a female medical ward. It was re-allocated and converted to a renal ward. The renal ward opened in 1977, and consisted of 15 beds – 9 on the open ward with a partition along the center of the ward, and 6 cubicles, each with a sink and dialysis facilities. Male and female patients were nursed and treated on opposite sides of the partition in the main ward, when possible.

This is the first few pages taken from the 45 page History of Leicester pdf file (16Mb) which includes many photos and graphs.

Last Updated on July 30, 2022 by neilturn