Nordisk Insulin Laboratorium (NIL), now Novo Nordisk A/S, founded Niels Steensens Hospital in 1932. Dr.med. Hans Christian Hagedorn, the Nobel prize winner August Krogh and the manufacturer August Kongsted had begun producing insulin for the first time in Europe in 1922.
However, Hagedorn, who was originally a practising physician, was a very academic businessman who was interested in better understanding diabetes and its development and in improving treatment in relation to the use of insulin, diet and exercise. Therefore, Hagedorn became involved in the design of the hospital down to the smallest details, from the development of hospital beds to the planting of an apple orchard that might inspire patients to live healthily.
The opening of the first diabetes hospital in the Nordic region attracted attention throughout Europe. And it was the start of a unique private-public partnership that, ever since, has produced results that have improved the prognosis for diabetes patients, made a significant contribution to the understanding of the disease and its complications and inspired guidelines for treatment worldwide.
Initially, patients from throughout the Nordic region could be referred to Niels Steensens Hospital. However, it was primarily Danish type 1 patients who were treated at the hospital. Some were referred by the public health service and others took the initiative themselves to come to the hospital. If the patient was of limited means, the costs were paid by Nordisk Insulin Fond, today Novo Nordisk Foundation and up to 75% were treated free of charge.
The partnership with the public hospital service was continually expanded, and Niels Steensens Hospital had a more formalised agreement with Copenhagen County in the 1970s. The agreement meant that type 1 patients and later also type 2 patients were referred to the hospital from the public hospital service. Today, the Steno Diabetes Center treats approximately 5,600 patients.