Tuesday, 28 February 2017

My first visit to the doctor's, Lochee, Dundee, 1950

The NHS was only 2 years old in 1950 when I -  a boy of five years - was first taken to see a doctor in Lochee by my Mummy. We walked to what looked to me like a big stone-built mansion and after stepping through its entrance my Mummy led me by the hand into a large room around which many people were sitting on benches. They were waiting, my Mummy told me, to see the doctor.

Every now and then from one or other of two doors in the room the word, "Next!" would be called out and one of the waiting persons sometimes accompanied by another would get up and walk towards the open door, cross the threshold into a smaller room and close the door behind them. They had gone in to see the doctor. 

It seemed as if everyone knew whose turn it was to go through the doors though there wasn't an obvious queue like the ones at the Pictures or at the Lochee Tram Terminus at the back of Liff Road School. 

After what seemed ages another "Next!" was called out from one of the doors that had been left open by a person who had just departed one of the smaller rooms. It must have been my "Next!" for my Mummy led me by the hand and drew me to the room and we entered. We closed the door and a voice invited us to sit on the chairs situated in front of a large wooden desk. "And what can I do today for this little chap?" said the voice. The voice was owned by a man who sat facing us behind the big desk. He had reddish brown wavy hair which had a hair oil sheen to it. His face was adorned by a moustache, the same colour as his hair,  but twisted to a point at each end.  He wore a green tweed jacket and matching plus fours with beige woollen socks and on his feet were chestnut brown leather brogues but his dress was not the aspect of him that has bemused me over the years. No, it was that in his left hand he held a cigarette holder into which was inserted a lit cigarette while in his right hand he had a thick glass tumbler with an amber liquid in it which I now understand to have been whisky. This was the doctor.

After my Mummy talked about me to the doctor,  he wrote a note and passed it to her. We now walked out of the room leaving the door open for the next cry of "Next!" I was told later that the note was a prescription for medicine that would make me better. We would get the medicine from the chemist's and it was free!  And, unlike sweeties, it was "aff the coupon."

I suppose at that time we were moving from the culture of a private medicine system towards that of a National Health Service which was being provided free for everyone in the United Kingdom. The doctor I met that day may or may not have been representative of what went on in health care prior to the establishment of the NHS and I imagine doctors have changed a great deal and no doubt are now generally better informed since medical science has, we are told, advanced. What was different in 1950 was that the NHS did provide me - by sitting in a queue - an appointment with my family doctor on the same day. Now under the auspices of a Conservative government of the world's 6th wealthiest economy we're lucky if we can get to see a doctor at all. 
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