In October 1912, a Royal Commission visited Stornoway, under the chairmanship of Sir John A. Dewar, to investigate the provision of medical services in Lewis. Over the next few days, as I transcribe the report, I shall post some quotations to illustrate what conditions were like in the early years of the 20th century.
In this section, the discussion is with Dr Donald Murray, the then Medical Officer of Health, on the positioning of nurses across the island, in particular in the parish of Uig. The comments on the use of the telephone are noteworthy, as are the numbers of population of the various townships. The population of Brenish, 241 in 1912, is nowadays only a few dozen.
10,456. There is a nurse at Crowlista in the parish of Uig, but you think there should be another there ?
10,457. Where would you place her ?
—Within easy reach of Brenish.
10,458. Could you tell us the population there ?
10,459. Should there be a nurse for that population of 241 ?
—I admit it is a small population, but I think of the distances from the doctor. That district is about thirty miles from the doctor. A rearrangement of the nurses’ residences would be required.
10,460. A special nurse is sent for infectious cases ?
10,461. Are they treated in their own homes ?
—She is only employed for them at their own homes. In the burgh we usually take these cases to the hospital, but we don’t often take them to the hospital from these outlying districts because of the difficulty of transit.
10,462. How are you off for telegraphs and telephones?
—The telegraph system has improved. I don’t think in many parts they have got to go very far for a telegraph office At Brenish they have to go about ten or eleven miles to a telegraph office.
10,463. The telegraph system is fairly well developed ?
10,464. Have you any telephone?
—None except in connection with the telegraphs. In the burgh we have telephones.
10,465. Can you tell us if a doctor is allowed to speak over one of these telephones ?
—Not under the present conditions.
10,466. Have you ever tried ?
—I have never had occasion to try. I should imagine it is against the regulations.
10,467. It is quite possible that it could be done ?
—I have never thought of that. I don’t see why it should not be done.