Obituary: Basil Slater OBE, GP, researcher, principal medical officer and first Royal Navy GP advisor

Basil Slater, OBE
Basil Slater, OBE
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Basil CS Slater, OBE, MD, FRCPE, FRCGP, FFPHM, Hon.MCFP (Canada)

Born the son of two teachers in Armadale, West Lothian, Basil Slater used to claim that his initial interest in becoming a GP sprang from seeing his local doctor drive a Bentley and have students do all his work for him. Nobody who knew him believed this.

He studied at Bathgate Academy then at Edinburgh University, graduating in 1952 by which time he had met the love of his life, Jean Simpson, the daughter of his Edinburgh landlady. He was a very junior doctor at Bangour Hospital when they married in 1953. He cited Jean as the mainstay of his life and career.

He did his national service as a surgeon lieutenant with the Navy, based at Rosyth then struggled to find a place in general practice; a lot of doctors had returned after the war. Eventually, he was accepted in a practice in Harrow, north London. Back then, it took Basil and Jean three days to drive down the Great North Road, mid-winter, in a Ford Prefect with no windscreen wipers and no heater, to set up a new home. Their first house was also the surgery for two GPs.

Despite a busy schedule of two surgeries a day, visiting patients at home every afternoon and being on-call every other night, he kept notes of 13,000 patient consultations over a year and spent his evenings analysing it demographically. This research gained him his MD and also brought attention to him at the College – The Royal College of General Practitioners. It led to him being elected to the Research Committee and then to the College Council where he was, at that time, the youngest member. He succeeded John Hunt (later Lord Hunt of Fawley) as Honorary Secretary of the Council. Afterwards, he became Chairman of the Awards Committee and gave the oration when HRH Prince Philip received the Honorary Fellowship prior to becoming President. He was proud to have served the College at an important stage of its development.

Among other positions he held while in London, he was made the first ever civilian consultant in general practice to the Royal Navy. He travelled widely to bases in Britain, Europe and the Far East to advise on healthcare for the forces and their families and on medical recruitment.

During this time he also became Vice-President of the Section of General Practice at the Royal Society of Medicine and Postgraduate Adviser in General Practice for the north-west metropolitan region. He was also made a Fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners, a Fellow of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine and an Honorary Member of the College of Family Physicians of Canada. He was granted an Upjohn travelling fellowship to study record-keeping for research purposes in general practice and a Council of Europe fellowship to study research in practice.

As a modest man, he was astonished to be named in The Queen’s New Year Honours List of 1972. He was awarded an OBE for services to medicine.

A year later, he returned with his family to Scotland, something he’d always wanted to do. He joined a GP practice in Dalkeith and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

In 1975, he made a career change. He left general practice and was appointed to the Scottish Home and Health Department. Despite this, he was later elected Provost of the South East Scotland Faculty of RCGP, thus having the distinction of serving faculties in two different countries in this position, having previously been Provost of the Northern Home Counties Faculty in England.

He showed versatility in his work in the Health Department, having posts in Acute Services, Primary Care & Regional Medical Services and Maternal & Child Health before becoming a Principal Medical Officer and Director of the Scottish Health Service Planning Unit.

He was never quite at home in the civil service, however, and wanted to be back “nearer the action”. He became Medical Administrator on the management committee of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, the hospital where he had trained as a doctor. Often that meant he was the go-between, the liaison, between the medical staff and the management. Asked one time if he was on the side of the administration or on the side of the doctors, he thought for a moment and said, “I’m on the side of the patients”.

He finally retired in 1995. He felt his career in medicine began around the start of the NHS and ended when it was changing from the organisation he knew.

He was always interested in sport. In his early years he represented his school at football and cricket and also played tennis. When older, he took up bowling at which he won the Craigmillar Park Bowling Club pairs and triples championships and was runner-up in the singles championship final. He later became Honorary President of the club.

He had been an Elder, Presbytery Elder and General Assembly Elder of Craigmillar Park Church, the church where he was married in 1953.

Dr Basil Slater died peacefully at Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital on Sunday, March 5th. He will be greatly missed by his wife, three children and two grandchildren.