Paediatrics is a medical service which many of us come into contact with, yet few of us know much about its history. That is set to change with a new book by Dr Richard Purvis. Laura Hanton reports.

RARELY heard stories are being brought into the limelight with the publication of a book about the history of paediatrics in Dorchester.

Author Dr Richard Purvis, 78, was the second paediatrician at Dorset County Hospital (DCH). He worked there as a consultant for 40 years, after moving from Edinburgh to Dorchester in 1973.

After he retired in 2013, Dr Purvis's colleagues asked him to write about the history of paediatrics in the county. Never one to say no, Richard set about exploring how children's medicine has developed in Dorset, setting it against what was going on more widely in the country.

"Children's medicine didn't really get off the ground until the establishment of the NHS," Dr Purvis, who is originally from East Lothian in Scotland, said. "We didn't even use the word paediatrics. Children had no priority."

His book provides a comprehensive history of the hospital's paediatric care, from the situation before the creation of the NHS in 1948, right through to the present day.

The story starts with David Vulliamy who, upon his appointment in 1955, was the first paediatrician in Dorchester. He single-handedly looked after the children's wards in Weymouth, Dorchester and Yeovil, as well as running outpatient clinics across west Dorset, before the decision was made to centralise services in the county town. With a particular interest in the care of the newborn, Dr Vulliamy published the first edition of The Newborn Child in 1961, which has since served medical professionals for generations. Dr Vulliamy retired on health grounds in 1977.

The first Special Care Baby Unit was in Somerleigh Court, on the old hospital site in Dorchester, and was one of the first in the country.

These days, 16 paediatricians work at DCH.

"Before paediatrics was developed, it was the GPs that looked after the children," Dr Purvis explained. "Or didn't as the case may be. Children just weren't thought of."

Throughout a career spanning four decades, Dr Purvis has seen the world of medicine change before his eyes, yet he reckons the greatest transformation has been in the attitudes of society. Dr Purvis also saw the development of Henchard House on Bridport Road which was used for children with disabilities. It is now known as the hospital's Trust Headquarters.

"My speciality was neurodevelopmental paediatrics, covering conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism and ADHD," Dr Purvis said. "I worked with a group of patients with ADHD back in the 1970s. At that time, the parents were always blamed, and children who weren't the norm just used to be shut away; that's what Henchard House was for.

Things have changed a lot in terms of acceptance; that's where I can see the biggest difference. It's one of the greatest things that's happened."

Dr Purvis, who was also the second Medical Director at DCH – from 1999 to 2003 – has been working for the past two years to put the book together after discussing the idea with fellow consultants.

Rachel Dewhurst, now 24, was a patient with the DCH paediatric team from when she when she was a baby until the age of 18. Born with cerebral palsy and spastic paraparesis, Rachel suffers from reduced mobility and got her first wheelchair at eight years old.

"I was always a difficult child," she admits. "The staff had to try a lot of different things, in physiotherapy and orthotics. I had all sorts of treatments. Of course, at the time I resented them all, but looking back they did amazingly."

Dr Purvis coordinated and oversaw her care.

"He was lovely," she says. "He had a very slow, deliberate way of talking. He'd lean forward in his chair to get down on my level, and explained everything to me."

Now a full-time wheelchair user, Rachel doesn't have a bad thing to say about the care she received at DCH: "Everyone was very lovely."

Tricia Channon's experience was equally positive, having spent many years in and out of the children's centre with her daughters, Hannah, now 33, and Kay, now 30.

"My youngest daughter was born premature, at 26 weeks," Tricia explains. "The new Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) had just opened, and she was there for three months. It was marvellous, especially considering how new it was."

Kay was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and received further treatment from Dr Purvis and his team. She is now studying for a PhD, after gaining a First Class degree from the University of Chichester.

Tricia's eldest child, Hannah, has Down's Syndrome. Regular check-ups and physiotherapy meant she, too, was in and out of hospital, but was one of the first in Dorset with her condition to attend a mainstream school, thanks to the committed efforts of her mother. She went on to study at Weymouth College.

With two children requiring such extensive medical treatment, Tricia credits the consistent support from the hospital.

"Everyone at the children's centre gave me a lot of help, and a lot of instruction," she says. "I am indebted. I am eternally grateful."

Dr Purvis's experience in paediatrics goes beyond the UK, having studied at The University of Zagreb in Yugoslavia and University College Hospital in Ibadan, Nigeria during his degree. The International Grenfell Association, established by medical missionary Sir Wilfred Grenfell, appointed Richard as their first paediatrician in the 1960s, and he went on to spend more than two years building up children's services in North Newfoundland and Labrador, America.

*Dr Richard Purvis's book, Dorchester Paediatrics History, is available now. The book is available to buy from the Children’s Centre reception at Dorset County Hospital on Damers Road with profits going towards children’s charities. If anyone would like to give any feedback on the book, they can email