‘To remove the stigma of the Poor Law’: The ‘Comprehensive’ Ideal and Patient Access to the Municipal Hospital Service in the City of Glasgow, 1918–1939



The objective of the newly established Department of Health after the Great War was to ‘remove the stigma of the Poor Law’ from public health policy. Although there was no abolition of the Poor Law in its entirety there were strategies employed to encourage better health, and manipulation of the rules to extend free access to primary health care. This article examines the efforts of the Corporation of Glasgow from 1918 to 1939 to expand patient care to the citizens of the city who either did not qualify for poor relief or had no access to national insurance. The article examines the city's pioneering work in devising strategies to fulfil these changed priorities through the reorganization of services, building additional health infrastructure and through lobbying the Scottish Office to support legislation to create a legal context in which to expand patient access; this came to fruition in the health clauses of the 1929 Local Government (Scotland) Act. As Glasgow was the largest municipal authority outside the London County Council, its experience is crucial in understanding how changing national priorities were applied at local level and that despite great improvements in the scholarship on the inter-war hospital service the neglect of the city has created a major hole in the study of public health before the creation of the NHS. This article will correct this omission and further add to the existing scholarship on the period.