Treagus, Kenneth William George

The 1958 appointment of Ken Treagus, as Hospital Administrator (manager) of The Queen Elizabeth Hospital (TQEH), Woodville, heralded a new era in public hospital management for South Australia.

Traditionally hospitals were managed by medical and nursing staff. Ken was neither.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, ca 1957
Ken Treagus

In the early days of South Australia, a Colonial Surgeon was appointed to manage the medical affairs of the population. As the state grew various Medical Superintendents, Matrons, and medical boards were established to govern operations. The appointment of a non-medical person to the role of Hospital Administrator was viewed with great suspicion by the establishment. What would an ‘admin’ person know about the complex needs of patients and the running of a busy public hospital?

Ken was university educated in hospital administration in the UK. In his history on TQEH, Ian Forbes explains:

At the time of his appointment Mr Treagus was Deputy House Governor of The Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, London … He had been Organising Secretary at Charing Cross Hospital, London, ….. and then moved to the Peace Memorial Hospital at Watford as assistant administrator… then took up his appointment at Great Ormond Street where he remained for twelve years until his appointment to The Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Ken literally stepped straight off the boat on 24 March 1959 and proceeded to the hospital, joining the afternoon board meeting.

Ken and his family travelled from London to Adelaide aboard the passenger liner Oronsay disembarking at Outer Harbour.
Image courtesy of Rex Leverington and the SA Maritime Museum

He quickly gained the confidence and respect of the medical and nursing staff. During his time he established staff representative groups for areas of the hospital such as nursing, domestic and portering, medical, paramedics, and others, providing a formal avenue to him for representation and collaboration. This inclusivity was quite different from the top down approach of previous eras. He also kept his finger on the pulse by walking around the hospital checking that everything was running well. When spotted doing this staff would alert other staff by phone that he was on the way.

On one such occasion Mr Treagus was quicker than anticipated and reached his destination as the phone was ringing. As the desk was temporarily deserted he answered the phone himself and was told “The Adminstrator’s on the prowl”. His unruffled ‘Thank you very much; I will pass the message on’ gave much pleasure in its re-telling.

Ken Treagus and Matron Tanner showing Queen Elizabeth II the hospital named in her honour during the Royal Visit, 1963
Ken Treagus waits at the top of the stairs to welcome Queen Sirikit of Thailand, 1962

Apart from his work as Hospital Administrator, Ken was instrumental in making positive changes to health outcomes for South Australians through his work with the SA Association for Mental Health, the SA Council for Social Service, Rotary, TQEH Research Foundation (now The Hospital Research Foundation), The Friends of The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and Lifeline SA of which he was a founding member. He encouraged an expansion of volunteer services at the hospital, suggested carpentry and handicraft activities for patient rehabilitation, introduced services to photograph new born babies and Christmas Carols in the festive season, co-organised domiciliary services to the western suburbs, and implemented simple comforts for patients such as mirrors above the bed of immobile young men so they could see what was happening around them and reduce depression.

Ken retired in November 1978 having changed the perception of how hospitals could be managed and leaving an indelible mark on the lives of many South Australians.

Chairman of the Board of Management, Mr T B Prescott (right), farewells Ken on his retirement.

Ken died at TQEH in December 1988. He died in the care of his friend Dr John Watson and the nursing staff. In a final act of dedication to the hospital his remains were interred in the hospital’s Memory Garden in January the following year. His resting place in the Pridmore Memorial Garden can be visited 7 days a week at the hospital.

Ken’s original resting place – The Friends of TQEH Memory Garden, established 1980. The garden was located outside of the Resident Medical Officers’ accommodation (Connor Building). Plaques and interments were relocated to the new Pridmore Garden after redevelopment works which saw the garden raised to make room for the North East Building.
Ken’s resting place in the Pridmore Memorial Garden. A tranquil open courtyard at the heart of the hospital.

Written by Jacquelyne Ladner, CALHN Health Museum.

Photographs by Jacquelyne Ladner and the CALHN Health Museum. All rights reserved.

Ian Forbes, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woodville, South Australia, 1954-1984, published by The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, 1984.