The seed of the Department was sown in 1952, when Ian Richardson, a Senior Lecturer in Social Medicine at the University of Aberdeen organised a programme of optional student attachments to general practices. These two week attachments were usually taken during the vacation, often with the student's own general practitioner at home. Despite being voluntary, uptake was nearly 50%.
Following curriculum re-organisation in 1966 and the introduction of a compulsory four week general practice attachment for all students, teaching was based in the General Practice Teaching and Research Unit of the Department of Social Medicine and funded by the Nuffield Foundation. Ian Richardson, now a Reader, was appointed Director of the Unit. In 1970, the Chair of General Practice was endowed with assistance from the estate of Sir James Mackenzie. The Department became autonomous and Ian Richardson was inaugurated as the first Sir James Mackenzie Professor at the University of Aberdeen.
The early 1970s saw considerable expansion. By 1978 there were 4.8 full-time equivalent academic medical staff, and the Department re-located from temporary accommodation behind the medical school to the new joint NHS/University funded Foresterhill Health Centre. In the early 1980s severe funding restrictions were accompanied by several senior staff departures (including John Howie to the Chair of General Practice in Edinburgh, John Bain to the Chair in Southampton), and Ian Richardson became Dean of the Faculty of Medicine in 1981 until his retirement in 1984). The Department then passed through a particularly lean period for the remainder of the 80s and early 90s. The Mackenzie Chair lay vacant, and Professor Roy Weir (of the Department of Community Medicine) was appointed to act as Head of Department between 1984 and 1988.
In 1988 Ross Taylor, a senior lecturer, was then appointed as Head of Department, a post which he held until 1993. This period saw substantial re-development in teaching accompanied by significantly increased research activities. Innovative teaching methods and theory were devised at the time and were adopted by other University Departments of General Practice, throughout the world.
In 1993, with the support of Grampian Health Board, the University of Aberdeen re-established the Mackenzie Chair. Lewis Ritchie became its second incumbent and next Head of Department. Since then, increased funding, has seen a continuous increase in staff numbers and there are presently more than 130 in post. Many of our staff have part-time contracts with the Department, now based on all of the first floor of Foresterhill Health Centre, with attached clinical facilities on the ground floor.
In 1996, a Grampian Health Board endowment led to the inauguration of a second Chair in the Department. Known as the Grampian Health Board Chair of Primary Care, to be focused on primary care research and development. In 1997, Phil Hannaford became its first incumbent. The establishment of this Chair underlined the pivotal importance of effective R&D in primary care for the future NHS. To further reflect this, the Department underwent a name change, becoming the Department of General Practice and Primary Care.
Significant further expansion occurred in 2000. Firstly, Christine Bond was appointed to a personal Chair. This recognised the extensive portfolio of medicine management related projects and nationally recognised research programmes built up by Professor Bond and also marked the increasing mix of disciplines within the department. Next, when the Department successfully bid to host the first GPIAG (GPs in Airways Group) Chair of Primary Care Respiratory Medicine. David Price was inaugurated to the GPIAG Chair, with further funding also enabling the appointment of Thys van der Molen, University of Gröningen (Netherlands) as Visiting Professor in Primary Care Respiratory Medicine. Also employed in this initiative are a number of part-time clinical senior lecturers and research fellows based throughout the UK. This innovative development is already leading to significant contributions to primary care respiratory medicine by the Department.
In 2001, the research endeavours of the Department were assessed in the national Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), where a “5” rating was awarded putting it in the top echelons of all Academic Departments of Primary Care in the UK. Shortly afterward the Department’s effectiveness in staff development was recognised by the achievement of the Investors in People Award, with re-accreditation in 2005.
Teaching also continues to develop and has expanded far beyond a single four-week attachment in the senior undergraduate years of the medical curriculum. Primary care based teaching is now delivered to every year of medical students as part of the innovative community and communication skills courses. There has also been a growth of teaching for students in other disciplines and also for postgraduates. Teaching methods are constantly revised and evaluated to maintain standards and enable further innovation.
In 2002 Professor Phil Hannaford became Director of the Institute of Applied Health Science, an appointment reflecting well on the Department and underpinning the importance of robust health services research. In July 2004, the Department gained its first ever reader, Dr Amanda Lee.
August 2003 saw the adoption of the new collegiate structure by the University of Aberdeen. Within this context the Department continues to expand and occupies an integral role within the School of Medicine as part of the College of Life Sciences and Medicine.
Through continuous developments in research and teaching the Department aims to be one of the leading academic departments of primary care in the UK undertaking:-
- Nationally and internationally recognised collaborative and innovative research
- Support for high quality, evidence based primary care services
- Development of the next generation of primary care researchers, educators and service providers