Public Health

The development of Public Health in the City of Glasgow is well documented.

The Henry Meechan Chair of Public Health

Prior to 1923, Public Health and Forensic Medicine were conjointly taught under Professor John Glaister although the subject of Public Health was recognised by “qualification” as early as 1876 and by Diploma in 1889. It became the subject of a postgraduate BSc in 1903.

The Henry Meechan Chair of Public Health was founded in 1923 and endowed by Sir Henry Meechan (1856-1943), the Chairman of the Scotstoun engineers and builders, Meechans Ltd.  In his letter to the Principal offering his gift, he said “It is my sincere hope, as it is my belief, that the advancement and diffusion of knowledge in all matters pertaining to the public health will be of practical and permanent benefit to the community"

Professor John R Currie was the first incumbent of the Chair (1923-1940). He was previously Professor of Preventive Medicine in Queen’s University Kingston, Ontario and was also Clerk of Senate. The department was housed on Gilmorehill. From 1933 onwards, the building housing the Department of Public Health and its lecture rooms and laboratories was named the Institute of Hygiene.

 University Gardens, a terrace of houses, home public health in 1940

James MacAlister MacKintosh, Chief Medical Officer of The Department of Health for Scotland from 1937 -  held the chair from 1940 - 44. He had a special interest in UK Health Affairs in both the statutory and voluntary sectors and continued this interest following his appointment to a chair at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (1944-56) The Department, now named Public Health, moved to University Gardens in 1940.

Thomas Ferguson (1900-1977) was Professor of Public Health (1944-1964). Among his many publications, “The Dawn of Scottish Social Welfare” and “Scottish Social Welfare, 1864-1914”, are classic studies of the origins and evolution of the country’s social and health services. His positions included H M Inspector of Factories, Chairman of the Committee on Carcinogenic Action of Mineral Oils, and Chairman of General Nursing Council, Scotland.

Thomas Anderson
(1904-1990) was Professor of Infectious Diseases (1954-64) then Professor of Public Health (1964-1971). The Department moved to Ruchill Hospital in 1964.

View of Ruchill from South courtesy of GGHB Archives

Gordon T Stewart (1919-2016)
was Professor of Public Health (1972-1984). He studied allergies, and the pathogenesis and chemotherapy of infections, including the penicillin group, on which he wrote a book. He argued (unsuccessfully and controversially) for the discontinuation of whooping cough vaccination, because of a possible association with brain damage.

Anthony J Hedley (1941-2014) joined the University in 1983 as Titular Professor of Community Medicine. He was Professor of Public Health (1984-1988). His research included tobacco control, the health effects of air pollution, the evaluation of healthcare delivery, and postgraduate medical education. He left to be Professor of Community Medicine at the University of Hong Kong (1988-2010). In 1974, the Department was renamed Community Medicine along with the Departments in the other Scottish Medical School. In 1985 the Department moved from Ruchill Hospital to Lilybank Gardens.

James McEwen (1940- ) was Professor of Public Health (1989-2000) and is currently Honorary Senior Research Fellow. He was previously Professor of Community Medicine at King’s College London (1983-1989) and was Director of Public Health for Camberwell Health Authority. Research interests included health service provision and quality of life measures. He was President of the Faculty of Public Health, Royal Colleges of Physicians 1998-2001. In 1989, the Department reverted to the title of Public Health, although the Henry Mechan Chair had remained Public Health since it was established.

David Goldberg was Professor of Public Health (2000-2006). He is currently Honorary Professor of Public Health, University of Glasgow; Professor of Public Health at Glasgow Caledonian University; and consultant in Public Health Medicine and consultant clinical epidemiologist at Health Protection Scotland. His research interests are in blood borne and sexually transmitted infections (including hepatitis B and C and Human Immunodeficiency Virus), vaccine preventable diseases, and respiratory infections.

Jill Pell was Professor of Epidemiology at the British Heart Foundation Cardiovascular Research Centre, then Professor of Public Health (2007-) and is currently Director of the School of Health and Wellbeing which incorporates Public Health. She researches on the epidemiology of chronic disease, especially cardiovascular disease, diabetes, maternal and child health, obesity and tobacco control. She was Principal Investigator of a paper estimating the impact of Scottish smoke-free legislation on cardiovascular disease, voted by the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association as the most important research advance of 2008.

The Evolution of Public Health in Glasgow since 1960

From the 1960s, the historical scope of environmental and infectious influences on disease expanded in two major ways. First, the increasing incidences of non-communicable diseases (such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and respiratory diseases) led to large epidemiological studies in the West of Scotland. The most important of these were the Paisley-Renfrew Study and MIDSPAN studies, initiated by Professor Victor Hawthorne, and subsequently led by Graham Watt, Professor of General Practice (see Cardiovascular Disease).

The second expansion was addressing the wider social and economic determinants of health, and  their consequences for inequalities in health across the West of Scotland, and indeed Scotland. The Social Paediatric and Obstetric Research Unit (which later became the Public Health Research Unit) was established by Andrew Boddy in the University in 1978, and was funded by the Scottish Office.  Boddy (1936-2018); used large-scale administrative data to analyse health inequalities, which was particularly innovative. His research demonstrated the effects of deprivation on mortality in Scotland. This work has been cited internationally, and has been used by the Scottish Government in policies such as minimum pricing for alcohol. In 1987, Boddy was concerned about the epidemic of HIV infection among drug injectors in Glasgow, and with others founded the Possilpark Group. This multidisciplinary collaboration was shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection (see Infectious Diseases). He retired in 1998.

Social determinants of health and health inequality were also addressed by the Medical Research Council’s Medical Sociology Unit, directed by Professor Sally Macintyre, which moved from the University of Aberdeen to the University of Glasgow in 1984. In 1998 she became director of the Public Health Research Unit, which merged with the Medical Sociology Unit to become the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit. She was awarded the OBE, CBE then DBE (2011). She retired from the directorship in 2013 and was succeeded by Professor Laurence Moore. From 2011-2014, Macintyre was also director of the School of Health and Wellbeing, and was succeeded by Professor Jill Pell.
Professor James  McEwen

Find out more about Public Health in Glasgow, visit The Byres Community Hub

20th Century