Obituary: Janet Henderson, doctor

JANET Henderson was the definition of a good old-
fashioned family doctor, infinitely more interested
 in people than numbers.

Born: 13 September, 1923, in Edinburgh. Died: 24 August, 2012 in Grantown–on–Spey, aged 88.

She adored her work – mostly because of the people she met – always believed that traditional house visits were a critical part of the job and was ever ready to rise in the middle of the night to deliver a new arrival.

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It was a career that took her from the impoverished closes of Edinburgh to Canada, England and back to Scotland where she organised the training of scores GPs, delivered hundreds of babies and, with her husband, helped to establish Grantown Health Centre.

But beyond that she used her expertise and impressive social and organisational skills to benefit countless others across the Highland community through her contributions to the Highland Hospice, Children’s Advisory Panel, Red Cross and Blood Transfusion Service.

Born in Edinburgh but raised in London, she was the granddaughter of a GP and the daughter of a medical officer of health, Andrew Forrest, and his wife Mary. For the first five years of her childhood, she lived near Wandsworth Prison before moving to Leytonstone. Then, at the outbreak of the Second World War, when she was 16, she and her brother Archie were evacuated to Dollar, where they had numerous relatives.

Educated at Woodford High School for Girls in Essex, she returned to the capital in 1941 to study medicine at Edinburgh University. That year she met her future husband Lindsay, a fellow student, during an air raid practice. They both graduated in 1946 and she began her career with house jobs in medicine at the Northern General and in obstetrics at the Elsie Inglis Memorial maternity hospitals in the city.

As a newly-qualified doctor, she also visited tenements off the Royal Mile, treating children and families too poor to pay. She then went on to do an internship in Kingston, Ontario, while Lindsay completed his national service with the parachute regiment in Germany. He proposed over the telephone and they married in September 1949.

They set up home in Haddington, East Lothian, where she trained as a GP – one of the first trainees in the fledgling National Health Service. The following year, they moved to Inverness until Lindsay secured a partnership with a doctor in Croydon.

By 1955, the couple had two daughters and were planning to emigrate to Canada. However, they spotted an advert in the Lancet for a post in Grantown-on-Spey. Lindsay successfully applied and they moved north. Two years later, his wife, always known as Dr Janet, joined the practice.

The couple, who had a son in 1959, worked the surgery at their home between them, taking only a Thursday afternoon off. In 1972, they merged with another practice and, in conjunction with a third doctor, were instrumental in building the innovative Grantown Health Centre as an annexe to the local hospital, one of the first such centres in the Highlands.

When Dr Janet had first arrived in Strathspey, there were few incomers and, as a result, she was able to build a detailed knowledge of her patients, their local, extended families and their history, in a way that perhaps is not always possible today. She also believed house visits were a vital part of the process, a means of enabling her to truly understand her patients’ families and circumstances.

While she had considered obstetrics after completing her internship in Canada, she contented herself with delivering many babies at Grantown’s Ian Charles Cottage Hospital, where she fought long and hard to ­retain the maternity facility.

In 1977, she took on a different role, as regional adviser for general practice in the Highlands. Based at Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, it was a post that utilised her famed organisational skills as she planned training courses for GPs throughout the north. Dr Janet held the role until in 1983 and retired a couple of years later.

A vivacious, energetic woman, outside work she enjoyed skiing, sailing and travel and in retirement developed a talent for painting watercolours of flowers. She was also a strong supporter of her local community: she had been medical officer for Grantown’s Red Cross; chaired the local Girl Guide committee; was vice-president of a local drama group the Clachan Players; served the Blood Transfusion Service; and was on the Highland Hospice committee.

In the 1970s, she had chaired the Moray and Nairn Children’s Advisory Panel and been a member of Lord Dunpark’s committee looking at whether criminals should pay compensation to their victims.

She and Lindsay, who were always mentioned in the same breath, spent 21 years of their retirement together in Nethybridge before returning to Grantown to sheltered housing.

Dr Peter Grant, who was trained by the couple, said they became real innovators within general practice in the Highlands, while staunchly upholding the traditional values of individual patient care.

“Their initiative in attaching a health centre to a community hospital has been both envied and imitated elsewhere, and the model provided a prototype for the one-stop diagnosis and treatment centres that healthcare planners still aspire to provide.

“At a time when female GPs were a small minority, Janet distinguished herself among that pioneering group as the first regional adviser in general practice, and her leadership launched a generation of young doctors on their careers in general practice.”

From her Raigmore Hospital base, she provided support, counsel and inspiration to those in training throughout the Highlands and Islands, he said, and at her home at Mount Barker she mothered those who undertook their training in Grantown-on-Spey.

“Janet was highly sociable, and regarded her colleagues, as her patients, with an affection that was real, and that was reciprocated. Throughout my career, at any medical encounter anywhere in the UK, I found that the disclosure of my Highland origins was likely to lead to the question, ‘do you know Janet and Lindsay?’”

Widowed in 2009, she suffered a stroke last year and is survived by her children Gillian, Fiona and Peter and five grandchildren.