James Clark Cameron ~ Medical Doctor and Chair of the BMA

James Clark Cameron (1905-91) – medical doctor and Chair of the BMA – was born at Bridge of Earn on 8 April 1905 to a Perthshire family. After schooling at Glencarse School, Acharn School, Breadalbane Academy and Perth Academy, Cameron went up to University College, Dundee to study medicine (MB and ChB – 1929). His first stint in a hospital was in Arbroath. By 1931 he had relocated to England and set up a practice in Croydon and later another in Wallington. A popular GP, Cameron maintained this practice for almost half a century. In 1933, he married Irene Ferguson of Perth and during the course of their marriage the couple produced three children. She died in 1986.

At university, Cameron was a member of the Officers’ Training Corps and this speeded his promotion to Battalion Medical Officer during the Second World War (King’s Royal Rifle Brigade). Whilst British forces were being evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940, the King’s Royal Rifle Brigade was involved in the stand being made at Calais – Cameron was mentioned in dispatches during this attempt by the British Army to slow the German advance towards Dunkirk. Captured, Cameron was incarcerated at POW camp Stalag Luft 21 in Germany. In this camp he continued his work as a doctor, but also assisted with the men’s pastoral and religious needs (he was a Presbyterian). After learning German, Cameron was involved in negotiations with the German camp authorities. As the war developed Cameron found himself in Poland amongst American prisoners of war. Soon liberated by the Russians the camp’s inmates marched to Odessa – a difficult and treacherous trek. Imprisonment for so long left its mental scar on Cameron. During his time as a POW Cameron developed a strong regard for the Red Cross and after the war he involved himself in that organisations work, eventually being awarded the Red Cross badge of honour and life membership.

As well as a distinguished career as a GP, Cameron found time to be involved in medico-politics (BMA and other organisations). He was a strong believer in the NHS and fought for its improvement and defence especially in the area of general practice. His first important position was that as a member of the BMA’s general medical services committee (elected 1956). By 1964 he was chair. His term of office took in the militancy and anger of the mid-60s fights against cuts and redundancies and Cameron was forced by doctor’s angerand mobilisation to take on the government. Much of the time he stood between the activists and the government. The deal finally struck in 1966 was in the interests of doctors and Cameron could look back positively on his role. As well as his involvement in pay negotiations, Cameron took an active part in improving standards and training in his profession. He remained in position at the BMA for a further ten years until ill health forced him to give up in 1974; he did however lose the 1971 vote for the committee‘s chair and this hurt him.

In memory of his work, Cameron had a charity for GPs named in his honour, was awarded a CBE (1974) and a BMA gold medal for distinguished merit (1975). Within in a couple of years, after a recovery, Cameron got himself elected as chair of the BMA – he stayed on until 1979. Between 1976 and 1982 Cameron was a member of the advisory committee on medical training of the European Commission. Cameron’s legacy is that of both a supporter of the NHS and of its founding logic. His final speech to the BMA in June 1979 included the following remark about the NHS: “It suffers from chronic under funding … an overblown administration … bad personnel management and … poor industrial relations … So far none of these fundamental problems have been realistically tackled.” Throughout the Thatcherite (Conservative Government) years of turning the NHS into a market-driven capitalist entity, Cameron stood in opposition. James Clark Cameron died (leukaemia) at the Royal Marsden Hospital (London) on 22 October 1991. Cremated, his ashes were scatted at the family grave in Aberfeldy.