In 1840, those who paid £1 or more a year to the charity voted for a Surgeon to the Institution. Dr JHF Spencer, a young Maughold-born doctor, was elected to the post with 67 out of 88 votes. He would serve in the post until the hospital was moved to Fort Street in 1849, before his sudden death in 1850 at the age of 37. An early pioneer in the use of chloroform, he wrote to Dr James Simpson, who discovered the anaesthetic, in 1847, about his experiences of its use in the Isle of Man.
The dispensary had six beds and a matron, the first being Widow Kelly who was hired in 1841. It opened daily from 9am to 11am. To ensure that only genuinely needy cases were accepted, the poor had to be recommended by a subscriber. But occasionally the hospital was criticised for sticking too closely to these rules, especially during a cholera epidemic.
The poor and sick of Douglas could visit the dispensary during its opening hours, but they might also be seen by the doctors in their homes, or at the poorhouse. They might also visit the home of the doctor themselves. As part of the dispensary’s service, Dr Spencer set up a mass smallpox vaccination programme for children through schools. Hundreds of people were vaccinated, and smallpox practically disappeared from Douglas. The dispensary also treated people suffering through cholera and typhoid epidemics.
According Doctor Spencer’s final report, the number of patients admitted between 1840 and 1849 was 6,640, of whom 3,920 were discharged as cured, and 246 died. The hospital only closed for one day, when the medical staff were required to give evidence in a trial, and 10 Strand Street continued to be used as a dispensary after the General Hospital had been opened.