Celebrating 100 years since the UK’s first dietetic department

05 Jul 2024

Today we celebrate the NHS turning 76 - and we would like to thank all our members who work in the NHS. Without you, people across the UK wouldn’t receive the dietetic services that are so essential to them living healthy and nutritionally-balanced lives.

This year’s birthday coincides with the 100th anniversary of the first ever dietetic department, which was established in 1924 at The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

In 1920, the Board of Management at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh appointed a special committee to consider diets in the hospital and recommended the appointment of a dietitian with general responsibility for patient diets. At that time it was nursing sisters that took on the roles of dietitians and it was Ruth Pybus, a name that will be familiar to many, that was appointed as the first head of the department in 1924 when it was established.

Part of her role was trying to prove that dietetic out-patient care could save admissions to the hospital. The following year in 1925 Ruth won a Rockefeller Foundation grant to observe kitchens in the United States and relay the information back to the hospital. The Rockefeller Foundation also funded the building of the Infirmary’s metabolic unit with a diet kitchen.

In 1934, the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh went on to open the first School of Dietetics offering specialist training in clinical diets for the first time in the UK. The school offered a Diploma, open to registered nurses, students with domestic science qualifications or with a BSc in Household and Social Science. The school ran until the 1950s.

In 1936 the British Dietetic Association was founded to help maintain professional standards and develop a code of conduct. In 1945, The Lancet ran a series of articles on hospital food and the harmful effect poor diet had on patients’ recovery, calling for more people to train as dietitians.

As a result, by 1948 patient diets and care in the hospital changed dramatically. Meals were served that had a better nutritional value, enabling patients to get better quicker and leave hospital quicker.

Fast forward to today and the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh runs a dietetic service as part of NHS Lothian and has a team of more than 150 dietitians and support staff.


A special thanks to Karen Henderson, Head of Dietetics at NHS Lothian and Lauren McKay, Archive and Library Assistant at Lothian Health Services Archive for providing information and photos.




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