A celebration of the centenary of a report which transformed health services in the Western Isles and established the founding principles of the National Health Service is being organised.
Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan has joined forces with Professor Richard Collacott, a local expert on remote and rural healthcare to mark the occasion.
Dr Allan commented: “In 1912, the Dewar Commission was established to examine the state of health services throughout the Highlands and Islands. Its authors were clearly shocked by what they found, and the report still makes shocking reading today.”
He added: “The report describes a time, almost within living memory, when large areas of the highlands and Islands had neither roads nor telephones. The few doctors there were so poorly paid that they had to charge fees to cover their frequent need to hire boats and horses. One doctor in Lewis describes trying to serve a scattered population of 7,000 in his district on foot.
“Given that the average income of a crofter in the Western Isles, after rent, varied from place to place at that time of between only £10 and £26 per annum, doctors were, for appreciable reasons, often only called on when it was too late.
“Many people in the islands testified to the commission about this injustice, memorably Father Macneil in Eriskay who complained at the lack of medical care on that island, pointing out that the school master was having to attend the births of babies ‘with the aid of a medical dictionary’.
“The Dewar Commission’s recommendations were radical – a health service free at the point of need. These ideas were implemented in the Highlands and Islands, and 35 years later they formed the basis of the NHS throughout Scotland. It’s right that we mark this historic anniversary, and the way it transformed the lives of people in these islands.”