NHS75: Introducing Dr Alasdair Fraser, a medical student at the start of the NHS

Dr Alasdair Fraser, retired consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology, aged 92, shares some of his memories as a medical student at St Mary’s Hospital at the start of the NHS.

My father was a general practitioner at the time of the National Health Service (NHS) coming into creation. The concept of a universal medical system was something completely new and it inspired many young men to pursue careers in the healthcare industry. I was not only inspired to follow in my father’s footsteps, but to be part of this new unified system.

I became a medical student at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School, now known as St Mary’s Hospital, in 1947, just after World War Two. I remember feeling very lucky when I was accepted. I was a minority in terms of the student cohort as the majority were ex-servicemen a few years older than me, but we mixed in very well together and learnt from one another. These students in particular were very appreciative of the fact that they could be students and receive an education after the war and this feeling of gratitude rubbed off on us all.

As well as wholeheartedly enjoying my studies, I remember having a busy extracurricular life. I became president of the rugby club during my time as a student and I got involved with other student activities such as singing in operas and acting. There was always something going on!

After I qualified as a medical student in 1953, I spent two years in the army and then completed my house jobs at St Mary’s Hospital. I later became a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology and at the time, there were only really three other gynaecologists at St Mary’s. We were a really strong and supportive team and it felt good to work alongside one another.

Sir George Pinker started as an obstetrician and gynaecologist in 1958, and he went on to become the royal gynaecologist and obstetrician from 1973 until 1990, and President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists from 1970 until 1977. David Paintin, consultant and lecturer in obstetrics and gynaecology, was instrumental in progressing the bill that became the Abortion Act of 1967. He also helped to develop our current abortion services in the UK, including the use of the abortion pill. Lastly, Frank Loeffler, consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology, had a special interest in improving the safety of childbirth, and went on to become editor of the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology for eight years. As you can imagine, we were quite the force in the 1980s/90s!

In 1982, alongside Dr Cockburn, I started an alumni association for graduates of St Mary’s Hospital Medical School. In 1997, The St Mary’s Hospital Association became a full registered charity and today, it provides £10-15,000 worth of grants each year to the Imperial Medical Students’ Union at Imperial College London to support non-academic clubs and societies such as sport, drama and music, and the publication of ICSM Gazette amongst other things. Throughout my career, I took great delight in teaching undergraduate students at St Mary’s, so I feel great pride in how the association has grown. 

I look back on my time as a medical student and my career in the NHS very fondly. I have remained friends with many of my peers decades after qualifying as a student and retiring from the medical profession. As the NHS turns 75, I am proud to say that I was part of the NHS from the very beginning and that I devoted my whole career to the NHS. I am proud of how the NHS has evolved and what it still stands for – providing healthcare for all.