The town has been fortunate in having a good number of general practitioners, many of whom were in business for many years. Residents recall Dr Anderson at Cairnbank, Bayswell Park in the 1950s, Drs Cordin and Ritchie (a husband and wife team) at Edinburgh Road, and Dr Seales at the New Inn in the 1960s, with Dr Christopher at Templelands. Drs Macdonald and Laurenson ran separate practices from within the same building at Templelands, and in the 1960s and 1970s they were joined by Dr Ballantyne and later Dr Cassells and Dr Badger, when sole-practitioner GPs were replaced by partnerships in the 1970s. From 1986, these partnerships operated from a single building – the new medical centre (built 1986 on the site of the Playhouse Cinema). This building was converted into a children’s nursery, when a larger medical centre was built at Kirklands, opened December 2001. There are three practices there and partners include Cassells, Brewster, Mee; Hare, Horn, Black and Gordon. Other health facilities are under one roof – the chiropodists, community nurses and health visitors.
Until the 1960s and 1970s community nurses were stationed around Dunbar and Belhaven/West Barns, working in association with the Cottage Hospital, GPs and Belhaven Hospital. The latter is now a dedicated geriatric facility, offering care to enable carers to have respite breaks. The health visitor’s clinic in the West Port was closed when the health centre opened. The GP ward continues.
Recent efforts have been directed at re-establishing provision for minor surgery and small accidents, lost since the Cottage Hospital was removed, although some emergencies could be catered for at Belhaven Hospital, through a GP ‘on-call’. Roodlands took over other aspects of emergency provision, though not A&E.
Dental provision has always been available from several practices located usually in the East High Street, where also a dental technician had premises in the 1980s and 1990s.
The main geriatric facility is Belhaven Hospital; built in 1901 as a council fever hospital, Belhaven had evolved into a hospital for the chronic sick by the time it was assimilated into the NHS in 1948. Since then it mainly provides long-stay care for older people with an additional ward being added in 1958 and a GP unit in 1973.
Dunbar Fever Hospital was located at the battery. It became a small world war one hospital, and reverted to the town after the war. Funds were raised and the hospital moved to Yorke Lodge in May 1927. After the second war, it was taken over by the NHS (c1948), providing a GP facility until the service transferred to Belhaven in 1973 and the Cottage Hospital was closed. The building was largely empty for several years but was used as holiday accommodation by St Joseph’s School, Tranent. In 1985, the site had been taken over by the Civil Service Benevolent Fund to build Lammermuir House and a sheltered housing complex.
Lammermuir House, on the East Links was built as a Civil Service Benevolent Home designed by Campbell and Arnott with Douglas Laird; it provided residential accommodation for civil service pensioners (in the first instance). Associated sheltered housing – Broadhaven – incorporating some of the carved sandstone from Yorke Lodge itself, was built on that site. The Queen formally opened the complex on 30 July 1986.
The New Inn was converted into a Church of Scotland Eventide Home in the 1970s – St Andrew’s House. However, changing economic circumstances, which included ever increasing demands on the church’s finances, and the effects of legislation on the overall suitability of the building had caused increasing pressure. Despite the strong local support by the end of the century the home had gone.
‘At Christmas, children could always be sure where Santa was when not on duty, as his snow-covered boots, his red robe and a pile of festively wrapped gifts could be seen piled up in the hall of St Andrew’s House’.
Many elderly people benefit from home helps and ‘meals on wheels‘ though the nature and type of provision have changed from its original development. The meals on wheels service continued on a limited basis from the St Andrew’s Centre (at ‘The Old Manse’ until it closed in June 2002). Meals were delivered by volunteers funded and organised by the Board of Social Responsibility of the Church of Scotland – on average about 15 meals daily for five days a week – and covered all of Dunbar and out as far as Innerwick. In 1999, East Lothian Council introduced a new system of deep frozen meals. After some hesitation the new system has proved popular and has attracted a wider range of users.
The Dunbar Day Centre in the old Dunbar district office (the former Registrar’s office) was a self-help venture got off the ground by a succession of volunteers (mainly Molly Keith) after local government reform (September 1976) with limited council help. The local authority has input. The day centre provides a range of services for the elderly, including a lunch club which also provides ‘meals on wheels’ for elderly clients. The day centre continues fundraising using vacant shops as charity shops for short periods, a similar strategy to that pursued by the Rotary Club.
The Abbeyfield Dunbar Society was formed in 1966; by 1968 the society had opened a house at Kirklands, Dunbar which provided economic ‘companionship and support’ for seven elderly residents and a housekeeper. Run by volunteers on a non-profit making basis, between 1968-99, the house was full, and there was a waiting list for rooms. By 1999, the society found it increasingly difficult to find new residents, and the house was at risk of closure.