High Peak News

24 March 1888

The sudden death of a woman at whaley bridge

To the Editor


I was extremely sorry that, having been called away from Manchester on business, I was unable to answer the letter of Dr Allan, but there are now two other letters to reply to, and one to comment upon, and I hope that I may be allowed to fulfill the duty which has devolved upon me on account of my writing the first letter, and also justify my action in that respect.

I propose, with your permission, to deal with the letters in the order they appear in your paper, selecting Dr Allan’s first.

After attacking the coroner, he states that it was four hours after the birth of the child that he was sent for, during which time “the unfortunate woman was being manipulated by a charwoman, during which it was the duty of the husband to have gone for Dr Anderson if he could not pay me.” In the next paragraph he writes, “Although I hope I should not fail to attend to the claims of humanity, yet I do not recognize that the public have any right to expect from me gratuitous services, and I claim the right to refuse attendance where I please.

Paragraph 4 contains the following excuse: ”I do not see that it is any necessary part of the duties of a medical man to remove by his mere presence the responsibilities naturally attaching to others,” and in the last paragraph puts forward his continued good relations with the club as evidence of the falsehood of Mr. Jodrell’s statement as to his having to be called six times, which if true, he states, would be equivalent to his dismissal; but in reply I would point out that he being the only doctor in the village is enabled to do many things with impunity which he would be afraid to do if there was any opposition in his profession.

It is my intention to deal with the above quotations in their order:

First, It was, according to the statement of Mr. Jodrell, which he is prepared to uphold on oath before a jury, that it was three hours and a half after the birth of the child when he arrived at the doctor’s house, and was knocking there for thirty-five minutes before he got an answer, and had he been aware of the reply he would have gone to Chapel-en-le-Frith or Disley for a doctor, and would have been able to procure assistance during the time he wasted in knocking at the door, and he would willingly have paid the attendance fee himself.

As for the woman being “manipulated by a charwoman,” Mr. Jodrell shows his sincerity in the matter by offering to have his wife taken from the grave, and a post-mortem examination made of her body.

Second, He makes the case worse because, after recognising the claims of humanity, he contends that no one has a right to expect gratuitous service from him, and claims the right to refuse attendance where he pleases. In this case he was certain of payment, because he knew where the man lived and worked, and had known him for several years, besides which he had the power by law to distrain for his debt, if not paid. So his excuse is nullified. With regard to his right to refuse attendance, had there been another doctor in the village I would not question his right so much; but seeing that he is the only medical advisor in the place, I hold that he is bound to attend whenever and wherever he is required.

Third, He excuses himself on the ground that if he had gone he would have had to bear the responsibility. But, as in the former part of his letter, and the evidence of Mr. Jodrell, he shows clearly that he would have been quite willing to have accepted the responsibility had he received his guinea, which points, in my opinion, to selfishness, and does away entirely with that excuse.

Leaving Dr Allan, I come to “A.H. Colles,” who reiterates in his second paragraph what the doctor said; but, as I have clearly pointed out above, the doctor was quite willing to have accepted the responsibility providing he secured his fee.

In the seventh paragraph of his letter he endeavours to justify the action of Dr Allan by stating that in his experience he could give many cases of a similar kind; and instances one quite recently where four doctors refused to move. But I contend that the case in Salford (if that is the one to which he refers) is not a fair comparison.

I hardly know how to answer his eighth paragraph, where he endeavours to make capital out of the fact that my name is not in the new edition of “Slater’s Directory,” but I should like to inform him that I have no particular desire to publish my name in every advertising spot on the face of the earth, but if he wishes to communicate with me privately he has nothing whatever to do but write my name correctly, and address the envelope as below, because I am sufficiently well-known for such letters to reach their destination.

We of the middle and upper class are too apt to treat with indifference and contempt the sufferings of those who create our wealth, but I flatter myself that my experience short though it may have been, has been sufficient to make me renounce once and for all the class prejudice which is so prevalent amongst the well-to-do portion of society.

With regard to the last letter, that of “C.A. Johnstone,” who apparently is in such circumstances as to be able to command the services of any doctor at any time, owing to his position, I would recommend to his careful perusal and thought the latter portion of my reply to “A.H. Colles.”

Now for my comments, which will necessarily be brief, owing to the compulsory length of my reply to controversial matter.

To my mind the case appears as follows: It is a cold winter’s morning. A doctor is suddenly aroused out of his sleep by a loud knocking at his door. Instead of seeing who the visitor is he waits to see if he will depart, but at last he is compelled to attend at the door, and finds that a poor man (who cannot pay his fee until he receives his wage) wishes the doctor to attend his wife, who is taken ill in childbirth. He, taking into consideration (in my opinion) the condition of the weather, refuses to go, and excuses himself on the ground that the man cannot pay him at once. The poor woman dies, the man is almost distracted with grief, an inquest is held, and the doctor censured. That is practically the case in a nutshell.

Now, had it been “C.A. Johnstone” instead of Mr. J. Jodrell who had awakened him, I have no doubt he would have attended without a murmur, therefore I contend that some satisfaction other than that which he has given in his letter is required, and I hope he will see the justice of the demand. I should like to comment further on the matter, but consideration for your space forbid, and I sincerely hope that the importance of the case will in your opinion be sufficient apology for the length of this letter.

Yours &c,

Archibald Vicar

Prestwich, 19th March 1888.