Obituary: Basil Slater OBE, GP, researcher, principal medical officer and first Royal Navy GP advisor
Basil Slater grew up in West Lothian, Scotland. He showed an interest in becoming a general practitioner from an early age, whilst at Bathgate Academy, although there was no family-background in medicine. He graduated from Edinburgh University in 1952. After house officer posts in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and Bangour General Hospital and after national service in the RNVR, he entered general practice in Harrow, Middlesex, where he remained for 18 years.
Early in his GP career he developed an interest in research and became Recorder of the College of GPs’ studies on aetiology of congenital malformations; one of its first large-scale surveys. At the same time, he conducted an analysis of one year’s work in his practice, analysing 13,000 consultations by slide-rule and being awarded an MD for a thesis on the adult frequent attenders in the practice. This work led to him being elected first to the Research Committee of the College and then to Council where he was, at that time, the youngest member. He succeeded John Hunt (later Lord Hunt of Fawley) as Honorary Secretary of Council. Afterwards, he became Vice-Chairman then Chairman of the Awards Committee. In the latter capacity he 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.
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 had the honour to be appointed the first Honorary Consultant in General Practice to the Royal Navy, travelling widely in Britain, the Mediterranean area and the Far East in order to advise on GP vocational training in that service where there were particular problems which might have affected recruitment.
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.
In The Queen’s New Year Honours List of 1972, he was awarded an OBE for services to medicine and, during his medical career, was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, 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.
In 1973 he decided that there were other priorities in life, left London and returned to Scotland to take over a practice in Dalkeith, near Edinburgh. Shortly after, however, he had two operations in quick succession for a prolapsed intervertebral disc that had troubled him for many years. This led him to consider a change in career and in 1975 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 SHHD, having posts in Acute Services, Primary Care and Regional Medical Services, Maternal and Child Health before becoming a Principal Medical Officer and Director of the Scottish Health Service Planning Unit. He took early retirement from there, having the wish to return “nearer the action” and was appointed a Consultant in Public Health Medicine with Lothian Health Board, his main duties being as the Medical Administrator on the Hospital Management Committee of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, his old teaching hospital. He finally retired from there in 1995.
He was always interested in sport. In his early years he represented his school at football and cricket and also played tennis, later taking a passive interest in these. When older, he took up bowling at which he won the Craigmillar Park Bowling Club (Edinburgh) pairs and triples championships and, in 1969, 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.
His marriage to Jean (née Simpson) was the mainstay of his life. Jean’s support was always there for him. He was also extremely proud of his two sons, daughter and two grandchildren.
Dr Basil Slater died peacefully at Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital on Sunday, 5 March. His funeral service drew an unanticipated number to Mortonhall Crematorium, with even standing-room filled. They donated £450 to support the work of the NHS Hospital At Home service and the staff of the Western General who were unfailingly supportive and compassionate in his final weeks. He will be greatly missed by his wife, three children and two grandchildren.