The history of medicine: A Scottish perspective
The history of medicine: A Scottish perspective

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The history of medicine: A Scottish perspective

1 Policies of health: diseases, poverty and hospitals

1.1 Introduction

The ‘welfare state’ and its future are frequently a topic of passionate debate. Its philosophy, best embodied in the expression ‘from the cradle to the grave’, is based on the principle that one of the duties of the state is to care for the well-being of its citizens at each stage of their lives. Health is now recognised, at least in most European countries, as a universal right and many agree that its costs should be met by society as a whole and not just by those who are sick. Furthermore, one of the criteria by which we judge a society is its ability to maintain an environment that is clean and safe. All this, however, is very recent and is the fruit of struggles and controversies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But what happened in earlier times? What did ‘disease’ and ‘health’ mean to communities regularly decimated by epidemics? What measures, if any, were taken? What happened to poor people, dependent on their ability to work, who could not afford the costs involved in falling ill? In this course, I provide an example based at Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary to illustrate how changes in medical delivery affected the local population.

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