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A Close and Practical Association with the Medical Profession: Scottish Medical Social Workers and Social Medicine, 1940–1975

Authors
Journal
Medical History
0025-7273
Publisher
Cambridge University Press
Publication Date
Keywords
  • Articles
Disciplines
  • Medicine
  • Political Science
  • Social Sciences

Abstract

Medical History, 2007, 51: 309–336 A Close and Practical Association with the Medical Profession: Scottish Medical Social Workers and Social Medicine, 1940–1975 CHRIS NOTTINGHAM and RONA DOUGALL* This study is concerned with the development of the profession of almoner (renamed medical social worker in the 1960s) in Scotland in the period from the outbreak of the SecondWorldWar until the mid-1970s. In addition to primary and secondary documentary sources, it is based on extended interviews with practitioners of different generations, the collected personal records of individuals, and a witness seminar which involved medical social workers, members of parallel professions, and those who carried political respon- sibility for social work both at the Scottish Office and within the local authorities during the critical years.1 The story of the development of a small, well organized, purposeful, predominantly female, profession would be worth telling for its own sake, but there are wider implications. In the first place this is an example of a profession or, to be more specific, what we shall call an insecure profession, developing initially within one professional jurisdiction, the medical, and then switching to another, social work. As such, it offers an insight into the dynamics of professional politics. Secondly, there are social change issues and their impact on health services; all professions mirror the times in which they operate but the almoners’ experience was particularly interesting because they engaged with issues of poverty, poor housing, abortion, adoption, and domestic violence in a period when popular and professional attitudes were subject to challenge and change. Thirdly, the story carries implications for the NHS as a whole. Currently the social contexts of health and medicine are much debated and often outlined as if they rested on novel insights. In reality, there have always been individuals and organizations arguing passionat

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