Digging through some Western General images on the amazing Scottish digital archive that is SCRAN, I came across a couple of pictures of people protesting outside the Western General. I was fascinated to find out a bit more and soon found a local social history group who also had some information about a campaign to keep accident & emergency, maternity and paediatric services at the Western. Speculatively I emailed the local history group and was pleasantly surprised to get a quick reply from Dave who had been directly involved in the campaign!
Dave got involved as a young parent of three children who were all born at the Western and his family also used the hospital. WGAG met weekly — the group was mostly women, including Dave and the prospective politician Malcolm Chisholm. They met in the Health Hut in West Pilton. United by a common aim, the group was a good mix of local people from different backgrounds —from the traditionally poorer working class areas of Greater Pilton and the more affluent Silverknowes and Davidsons Mains.
The group was always more about direct action and activities than formal meetings. Some stunts included dressing up in medical gowns and demonstrating outside the Western and having a sing-song. They were quite good at attracting publicity and the cause that was supported by many people across the city. Apart from the public protests the group attended numerous Lothian Health Board meetings to argue the case. As a concession, and quite possibly because of the pressure brought about by the campaign, Lothian Health Board agreed to open a nurse-led Minor Injuries Unit at the Western General the of the first of its kind in Scotland and a true success story —around 25,000 people are treated there annually and it’s still going strong almost 25 years on.
Dave told me that looking back, it was a long, tiring and ultimately unsuccessful campaign but there were positives: it created a strong bond among all those who were involved and we were able to salvage something — the Minor Injuries Unit — from the wreckage. Some have remained active in our communities and Malcolm Chisholm, who went on to serve as a much-respected Health Minister at Holyrood, remains part of the North Edinburgh community as a volunteer board member.