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Biographical entry Purves, James Ewart (1894 - 1964)

MRCS and FRCS 14 June 1923; MB ChB Edinburgh 1917.

25 December 1894
2 September 1964
General practitioner and General surgeon


Purves was born in Edinburgh on 25 December 1894 and graduated from Edinburgh University in 1917. During the first world war he served as a Surgeon-Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and afterwards returned to the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, where he held a number of appointments, including an assistant lectureship in physiology. Later he was specialist surgeon to the Isle of Lewis and Harris. Long before the National Health Service, the Highlands and Islands of Scotland had their own medical organisation under the Scottish Board of Health: a general practitioner and a nurse were posted to isolated parishes, where otherwise there would have been no chance of a doctor. When the scheme was developed Purves received the first appointment in pure surgery at the Lewis Hospital, Stornoway in the middle 1920s. The town was at the end of a six-hour sea crossing from a port eight hours by rail from Edinburgh or Glasgow. Purves found himself in complete isolation in those days before the aeroplane. There was no laboratory, house surgeon or secretary, and only a part-time anaesthetist. Purves persevered and convinced the critical island community of the value of the hospital; his practice included gynaecology and orthopaedics, and he made or repaired most of his own apparatus. Eventually he obtained an adequate theatre and extended wards.

After a period on the staff of the New End Hospital, Hampstead he went into general practice at Bromley, Kent where he had charge of the Phillips Memorial Hospital; he became attracted by homeopathy. He campaigned against the impending National Health Service in 1947-48 and did not join it, but continued to practise privately till his retirement. He was secretary of the Bromley division of the BMA 1953-57. Jim Purves was a generous individualist with many interests and many friends. He married Dr Joyce C B Mitchell MB who died before him. He lived at 74 The Knoll, Beckenham where he died on 2 September 1964 aged 69, survived by his only daughter Dr Rosabelle Purves LRCP & SEd.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1964, 2, 952 by JB and p 1080 by Harley Williams].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England