Featured Doctor

GRANT, Dr Lachlan

Scotland: Rural Hero (1871 - 1945)

Place of Work

Ballachulish, SCOTLAND


Lachlan Grant was born in the Renfrewshire town of Johnstone in April 1871. His father Peter, ran a successful joinery and engineering business in the town. In 1878 his father’s business was bankrupt – and the family moved to Ballachulish. In 1889 he successfully applied for a place to study medicine at Edinburgh.

He seemed destined for a career in the upper echelons of Edinburgh medicine. But instead he turned his back on that in 1896 and he briefly took up the post of a GP assistant in Oban and then became the Medical Officer in Gesto Hospital in North Skye. In 1900, he accepted the post of medical officer for the Ballachulish Slate Quarry Company. During this time Grant became politicised. He started to raise concerns about the state of the company’s housing stock. The quarry company eventually dismissed him in 1902 leading to a lock out and strike by the workers to have Grant reinstated which lasted until the end of 1903 at which point Grant was returned to his role. After the quarry dispute an invigorated Grant took up the cause of crofters and cottars leading, in 1906, to the formation of the Highland Crofters and Cottars Association.

In 1913 his contribution to the Dewar Committee was influential in the establishment of the Highlands and Island Medical Service (HIMS). Over 30 years later when a State-funded healthcare system was being proposed for the whole of the United Kingdom HIMS was the only model cited in the discussion material.

In 1934 Lachlan published an article entitled “A National Health Service” – “every individual and every section of the community would from an organised network of health preservation and disease prevention machinery; and just as every corner of the land is served by the Post Office and the police, controlled by a central authority, so would the Scottish Minister for Health’s organisation penetrate every house and hamlet from John O’ Groats to the Mull of Galloway. But no class would benefit more than womenfolk, especially the mothers in rural and outlandish districts. In some parts they only see a doctor once in several months and some mothers with large families have never had medical attendance or skilled nursing”.

In 1933 he joined the Sea-League a movement to protect the West coast fishing industry and in 1934 he published a paper which led to the Highland Development League in 1936 which ultimately led to the Highlands and Islands Development Board.

Lachlan Grant remained the doctor for Ballachulish for 45 years until his death there in 1945. Further reading: Dr Lachlan Grant of Ballachulish by Dr Roderick MacLeod (published by House of Lochar, 2013)

Why a Rural Hero?

The man who invented the UK National Health Service

One of the abiding myths in our society is that the concept of universal, State-funded healthcare in Scotland was devised by a Welshman in the 1940s. It wasn’t.

When Lachlan Grant was called to give evidence to the Dewar Committee which was set up to develop a solution to addressing the healthcare needs of people living in the Scottish highlands and Islands, he identified the main issues as - no job security; poor housing; poor incomes for health workers; poor transport systems; a lack of good telecommunications; no holidays for health staff due to locums being scarce and unaffordable; and lack of access for health staff to a proper programme of post-graduate training.

He felt that the Highlands and Islands deserved and required special treatment and consideration.

In his eyes “the present moment is right for the inauguration of a State medical service”. He envisaged this being Scotland-wide but thought that the Highlands and Islands could act as a “launch for such a service”.

He went on to state that “only on these lines will every individual...receive proper medical and surgical attention; such a State is a coming event all over the country and in the near future”.

The Dewar Committee agreed.

Further reading: Dr Lachlan Grant of Ballachulish by Dr Roderick MacLeod (published by House of Lochar, 2013)

Submitted by Stephen McCabe