Ludwig Guttmann’s influence in the Australian context began with Dr Leslie Le Souef, a plastic surgeon who served in World War Two and was a prisoner of war in Germany, where he treated fellow soldiers. After the war, Le Souef was repatriated to England where he spent time with Guttmann and developed a lifelong friendship. On returning to Australia, he advocated the active rehabilitation approach adopted at Stoke Mandeville.
Dr Le Souef, in conjunction with Dr Ernie England, a urology specialist, and Dr George Bedbrook, a young surgeon, worked toward getting coordinated care for spinal injury patients who were, up till this time, scattered throughout Royal Perth Hospital. England recalled his dismay at the conditions for spinal cord injury patients:
“They were spread all over the hospital in various wards and nobody had the slightest idea of what to do with them. There was neither specific treatment nor programs that were being followed. In most cases they eventually developed ghastly bedsores followed by secondary infections that attacked other parts of their bodies and eventually terminated their lives. They, and their families, suffered greatly. It was bloody awful.”
England and Bedbrook protested to the Medical Superintendent about the appalling conditions that were very similar to the situation in America, Britain and Europe a decade earlier.
In December 1954, the Board of Management of the Royal Perth Hospital resolved:
“That the Paraplegic Unit be now officially recognised as a section of the Orthopaedic Department … and that hospital equipment for gymnasium, physiotherapy and other forms of treatment be provided …”
Dr George Bedbrook was appointed as the first Director of the Unit.