Academic journal article Perspectives in Public Health

Blast from the Past

Academic journal article Perspectives in Public Health

Blast from the Past

Article excerpt

The big news in July was the demise of the Sunday newspaper News of the World: the related mobile phone hacking was reported to include obtaining personal medical information about a politician's sick child. A rush of legislation is being considered to attempt to control such invasions of privacy. While noting that governments hardly ever act with such swiftness to pass public health legislation (the Metropolis Management Act within days of the Great Stink of 1858 and the hasty AIDS notification regulations in 1988 being very rare exceptions), at least it kept medical mishaps out of the news.

Perhaps you noticed a small item about the return of a 17th century bust of Dr Peter Turner to a City of London Church. Turner (1542-1614) was a physician at St Bartholomew's Hospital and a noted botanist, reminding us that doctors in those days used herbs for medical treatment, in the absence of much else that was effective. Even plant properties were poorly understood and the discovery of the pain relieving effects of powdered willow bark (antecedent of aspirin) was not for another 150 years. Dr Turner's bust had survived the Great Fire of 1666, in the St Olave's church attended by the diarist Samuel Pepys, but was looted during the Blitz in 1941. The bust was tracked down when an alert curator noticed it had been put up for sale in an art auction. Educated at Cambridge and Heidelberg, Turner was well qualified by 17th century standards and he was sculpted with hands in prayer and an expression intended to be pious. To modern eyes, he looks both surprised and disapproving, as well he might. For he was a bit of a rebel, supporting the Puritan cause and "insolently and stubbornly" practicing medicine without applying for membership of the College of Physicians. …

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