Martin Eastwood and Anne Jenkinson’s ‘History of the Western General Hospital’ is an amazing 250 pages of detailed description of the beginnings of healthcare provision in the west, on the other hand some say east, of Edinburgh until around 25 years ago. So popular is the publication that it is difficult to get hold of. I was really pleased to be able to lay my hands on a copy recently, however nothing is as good as talking to one of the author’s themselves. I had the pleasure of catching up with Martin Eastwood about a month ago.
The historical perspective that Martin was able to give reinforced my growing awareness of the Western being a place for innovation in medicine. In addition it also increased my appreciation of how healthcare develops as a response to the needs in the community it serves and an common desire in us all to improve the human condition. The origins of the Western are to be found in the concern for the people living in the slums of the Edinburgh and Leith. This has continued to this day with the National Health Service which provides for all of us.
There are particular moments in the development of the Western which are significant. It is a place which is very much of its time and not afraid to make appropriate changes. Martin told me that the modern Hospital began with Professor Sir Stanley Davidson who was instrumental in modernising the hospital after the second world war. He recruited a group of consultants from out with Edinburgh who had innovative ideas and ideals. They and their successors developed specialist units in all branches of clinical medicine, based on a broad scientific approach to medicine which broke the mould. This established the Western as a centre of excellence renowned all over the globe. Martin was keen to emphasise that central to this has been the nursing and ancillary staff who have always been very special.
Although renowned for its medical innovation it is also a place that remains firmly rooted in the community. Until comparatively recently there was terrible poverty in the tenements of Stockbridge and Leith, where families were living in cramped conditions and with several flats sharing one toilet. Healthcare in those days would often be solely bed rest. Sometimes this included bringing needy people back during the Christmas period to offer respite. Which illustrates the balance that many in the Western aspire to, between scientific innovation and a wider social awareness providing excellent care.