The provision of medical services in the Army was originally a regimental matter, but by the beginning of the eighteenth century three officers had emerged to give some sort of central direction to the provision of these services: the physician general, the surgeon general and the apothecary general. The Sick and Hurt Board technically a body for dealing with seamen, was also concerned at times with wounded soldiers at home. In 1790 the surgeon general was also made inspector of regimental infirmaries. In 1794 these two offices were separated, and an Army Medical Board consisting of them and the physician general was constituted.
In 1810 administration of the medical service was reorganized as the Army Medical Department under a director general, sitting as a board with two principal inspectors. The offices of physician general, surgeon general and inspector general of Army hospitals (as he had become in 1801) were abolished, followed by that of apothecary general in 1826. The director general became sole head of the Department in 1833, and at the same time the separate Irish Medical Board was absorbed.
The Ordnance Office had its own independent Medical Department until this was merged with the Army Medical Department in December 1853. From 1855 the department was placed under the Secretary of State for War. From 1857 to 1870 there was a separate Purveyor's Department to deal with non-medical hospital business. In 1870 the Army Medical Department became a division of the Commander in Chief's Military Department. In 1904 it passed, as the Directorate General of Army Medical Services, to the adjutant general's department.
In 1919 Directorates of Pathology and Hygiene were established. The latter was abolished in 1932, when its functions passed to the Royal Army Medical College, but was revived in September 1939. A Directorate of Army Dental Services was set up in 1936 and during the Second World War Directorates of Army Psychiatry and Biological Research were created.
In 1855 non-commissioned officers and men serving in hospitals were formed into the Medical Staff Corps. This was made more military in August 1857 and became the Army Hospital Corps, which was assimilated to the Medical Department in 1873. In 1884 medical officers and quartermasters were placed on the Medical Staff, and warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the Army Hospital Corps were redesignated the Medical Staff Corps. These two bodies were united in June 1898 to form the Royal Army Medical Corps.
The first nursing sisters were employed in military hospitals in 1856, and in 1897 they were formed into the Army Nursing Service (now Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps). An Army Dental Corps was established in 1921. Some military hospitals were transferred to the Ministry of Pensions in 1919.