Lives of the fellows

George Frederick Buchan

b.18 November 1878 d.3 June 1957
MB ChB Glasg(1901) DPH Cantab(1902) MD Glasg(1920) MRCP(1927) FRCP(1933)

George Buchan was born in Kilmaurs near Kilmarnock and he died in Willesden. His father was Dr George Buchan and his mother was formerly Jessie Hunter.

He was educated at the University of Glasgow where he had a brilliant career. He won prizes in natural philosophy and in mathematics, the junior Arnott prize, the Alexander Donaldson scholarship, the James H. Paterson bursary, the Joseph Black medal in chemistry and the William Hunter medal in medical jurisprudence and public health. Soon after he was attracted to preventive medicine. He came to England and worked in the fever hospitals of the Metropolitan Asylums Board, but soon moved to Birmingham as assistant medical officer of health under Sir John Robertson. Subsequently he occupied a similar position with the Essex County Council, and in 1920 became medical officer of health and school medical officer of Heston and Isleworth.

In 1912 he was appointed medical officer of health and school medical officer of Willesden and held this office with great distinction for thirty-five years despite many opportunities for transfer to larger authorities. He was the part-time lecturer on public health at the medical schools of Guy’s and St. Mary’s Hospitals.

For many years he was a dominant figure in the Society of Medical Officers of Health. He was a member of its council from 1912 until 1953, and its treasurer from 1919 until 1953, except for the year 1925-6 when he filled the presidential chair. He was largely responsible for the reorganisation of the Society as a result of which a council with enlarged powers was elected in 1946. Buchan was its first chairman and was thus responsible for public relations and chief spokesman for the public health service. It was mainly through his representations that the chairman of the Society’s council became an ex officio member of the Central Health Services Council set up by the National Health Service Act, 1946.

Buchan could prepare and present a case with outstanding ability; he took the leading part in the campaign which resulted in the Askwith agreement of 1929 on the salaries of public health medical officers. His interests were wide. He was a member of the Departmental Committee on Vaccination (1926-30), the Medical Planning Committee set up by the British Medical Association which reported in 1942, and chairman, and later vice-president, of the Royal Sanitary Institute. He was an active member of the British Medical Association for forty-five years and served on its council and many of its committees.

After he retired from the medical officership of Willesden he was chairman for some years of the Central Middlesex Group Hospital Management Committee. He was well-known internationally and was an honorary fellow of both the American and Canadian Public Health Associations.

He was an able and tolerant chairman, genial and a good mixer. He was one of the many Scots, including his elder brother, John, medical officer of health of Bradford, who have left their mark on the English public health service. In 1920 he married Florence Nellie, daughter of Charles William Barton, who survived him with a married daughter.

Richard R Trail

[Brit.med.J., 1957, 1, 1422 (p), 1536; Lancet, 1957, 1, 1253 (p), 1306; Pub. Hlth (Lond.), 1957, 71, 191 ; Times, 4 June 1957.]

(Volume V, page 57)

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