A Highland GP on life the universe and anything…



Can you help us please?

2012 marks the centenary of the Dewar Commission and the publication of the Dewar Report into the provision of healthcare in remote and rural parts of Scotland. The report is of local significance as it led to the establishment of the Highlands and Islands Medical Service (HIMS), but also of worldwide significance as it was the first direct and principal forerunner of the NHS.

We are marking the centenary with a full programme of events across the region, and we would really appreciate your involvement.


We are a group of healthcare practitioners, historians and archivists with a common interest in celebrating this important centenary. The Royal College of General Practitioners has plans for some events, and we want to ensure as many as possible are locally curated and of local relevance and interest.


 Sir John Dewar, MP (of the whisky family) sent a committee of seven men and one woman out – on foot, horseback and by boat – to seventeen remote Scottish locations from Argyll to Shetland to hear for themselves about the difficulties of providing primary medical care there. The stories in the resulting Dewar Report are harrowing and gripping. Not only does the Report set out a compelling case for healthcare reform but also, it gives a unique insight into the social landscape of the early part of the 20th century in the Highlands and Islands. Roads were extremely poor, phone connections rudimentary and the medical and nursing provision severely lacking. In fact at that time it is recorded that in Ross-shire 47% of deaths were uncertified, rising to 80% in Coigach, for lack of a doctor. The rest of Scotland had an uncertified rate of 2%.

The evidence gives a clear and startling picture of social conditions only 100 years ago. What is also exciting is the fact this was only the start. The resulting Highlands and Islands Medical Service (HIMS)brought about real changes. The Cathcart report of 1936 stated: – “This service has revolutionised medical provision in the Highlands. It is now reasonably adequate in the sense that for all districts the services of a doctor are available on reasonable terms.” The Highlands and Islands Medical Service also had a strong influence on the formation of the NHS. The Beveridge report took evidence from the Scottish Department of Health and Miss Muriel Ritson CBE, an administrator for the Highlands and Islands Medical Service sat on the Beveridge Committee.


 1. We would like to offer temporary information boards on Dewar and the Highlands and Islands Medical Society (HIMS), which came about as a direct result of the Dewar Report. These will be researched and produced by Highland Council Archive.  The boards will sketch out the state of medical services and health in the Highlands up to 1912, then show the Dewar Commission’s recommendations to improve conditions and finally, show how these recommendations came to fruition.

2. We hope you will be able to add your own content to these boards: the bigger picture, locally. We can point you to local sources and will happily assist if we can.

3. We will offer our services to come and speak at local events. There may also be a lecture series on Dewar and HIMS. With these, as much attention will be paid to local context as possible.


 Our funding application will be submitted to the Wellcome Trust in January 2012. We expect an outcome by March 2012, allowing us to start the project by Easter. Although the application is being made under a competitive scheme and therefore a positive outcome is not guaranteed, we are confident of success and have alternative funding sources: Royal College of GPs, Highland Council, Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare and NHS Highland that will step forward if necessary.

This will allow us to offer you a grant to be used to help with the costs of:

i. Venue and staffing

ii Any additional exhibition boards you may need

iii Curation.


 We are committed to providing a high profile for the centenary. In addition to the touring exhibition, the following activities are planned:

a. Conferences:

1. Feb 2012 Highland Medical Society, Centre for Health                                              Sciences, Inverness

2. May 2012 Dewar Report Conference, Drumossie Hotel,                                 Inverness

3. Oct 2012 Royal College of GPs Annual Conference,                                      Glasgow

b, Publications: short articles and possibly a book

c. Digitisation of the Dewar Commission Report and Evidence to be made      freely available to the public online via a dedicated website.


 If you would be keen to take part in this project, then please may we have the following from you:

1.Please fill in this ” Museum note of interest” form , by 10th December 2011, so that we can incorporate your museum’s needs into our funding application.

2. Possible dates when you might have space to house the exhibition, between Easter and October 2012, so we can draw up a rough timetable

3. A very brief idea of any local resources – archives, maps, artefacts, which you hold, to complement the exhibition.


For further information, or to contact the Dewar project, please get in touch with:

Dr Miles Mack,  The Health Centre,   Dingwall,    Ross-shire,    IV15 9QS   milesmack-at-nhs.net     @milesmack

Dr Annie Tindley,  Glasgow Caledonian University,  Department of Social Sciences, Media and Journalism,  Glasgow School for Business and Society,           Glasgow, G4 0BA            Annemarie.Tindley-at-gcu.ac.uk


 Further reading: –

Our website is at an early stage of development but is at: –


The report can be accessed at:


Wikipedia pages:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dewar_Report    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highlands_and_Islands_Medical_Service

A film of the events can be seen at:




Comments on: "Dewar Centenary – calling all Highland & Island Museums" (4)

  1. Kate Beaton said:

    Would you like any of this translated into Gaelic?
    Kate Beaton
    (Murdoch Beaton’s granddaughter)

  2. […] to others and invite debate or be “re-tweeted”. I was delighted when a tweet with a link to my blog[v] inviting museums to be involved in the Dewar Report project quickly resulted in an interview[vi] […]

  3. Dr Neil Beaton said:

    Dear Miles

    100 years on I have just signed off on the final draft of as project committee member and executive clinical lead of the Cairns and Hinterland Health Services District Health Service Plan 2012-2026. It is available for consultation and is yet to be signed off by the Minister of Queensland Health.

    Web link is


    The language may be different but there are so many parallels to my grandfathers report which is stark and quite amazing reading.

    In our area of far north Queensland, the islanders and mainland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Indigenous peoples have an average age of death of 52 for males 56 females, three time the infant mortality rate and an average standard mortality ratio of 4-5. Housing, overcrowding, education, the economy, poverty and infrastructure (roads wash out in the wet) remain a problem as does isolation, nutrition supersticion, mistrust, home remedies etc etc. Access to GPs who bulk bill (no fee) is low for those most in need. It’s quite fascinating really and somewhat ironic given I am a Foundation Fellow of the first College of Rural and Remote Medicine, ACRRM who set the standards in Australia for a dedicated rural generalist training program aiming to improve outcomes in rural and remote Australia.

    Now we do have the technology so we can provide access to the remote area and we can improve outcomes especially if we learn from the past and develop innovative team based solutions.

    Congratulations on your great work so far – its an inspiration as was my father (Murach/Murdoch) and grandfather.

    Kind regards


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