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Dr J Dickson Mabon1 November 1925–10 April 2008
16 December 2017 (online)
Jesse Dickson Mabon, known as Dickson, died on 10 April 2008 at the age of 82. Best known as a long serving Labour MP, he was also a homeopathic physician, Member of the Faculty of Homeopathy, President of the Faculty of Homeopathy (1995–1996) and an influential supporter of homeopathy. He was the first chairman of the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital NHS Trust, in which post he served with great distinction, playing a leading role in saving the hospital from closure in the early 1990s. I worked closely with him at that time. I learnt a lot and will always be grateful for his canny and determined leadership.
Dickson was appointed Chair of the ‘shadow’ Board of the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital at one of the darkest moments of the Hospital's history, in late 1991. A date (1 April 1992) had been set for the closure of the hospital by Bloomsbury and Islington Health Authority, and it really looked like the end of the road. At that time league tables of overspending by health authorities were published regularly and Bloomsbury and Islington had the dubious honour of always being at the top (or bottom!), as the most overspent. The Health Authority had already closed a series of smaller hospitals in their ‘patch’ and seemed set to do the same to the RLHH. Not that it would have solved their main structural problem: they had two teaching hospitals (Middlesex and University College Hospitals) but a budget for one!
It was fortuitous that around this time Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government announced the idea of the NHS internal market, which included NHS Trust Hospitals, in the 1989 White Paper ‘Working for Patients’. I remember accompanying Dickson to hear David Mellor, at that time Chief Secretary to the Treasury, speak at BMA House on NHS Trusts. One of the points Mellor made was that no hospital should become an NHS Trust solely to avoid closure. I said to Dickson ‘Well that rules us out, I suppose’. He grinned and winked, saying ‘I wouldn't be so sure about that’. And he was right! Soon afterwards we received permission to form a shadow NHS Trust and developed a plan to establish the RLHH as an NHS Trust.
At our first attempt we were told that although we had made a strong case, the RLHH was not ready for Trust status because it lacked an adequate managerial structure. But it was a tribute to Dickson's political skill that, exceptionally, we were granted a year's reprieve. We were funded from central government sources while we organized a management structure and appointed staff. But it was no push over, 3 weeks before the deadline for submission of the Trust application the shadow board was close to despair because we realized that our draft bid would convince nobody. But Dickson rallied us with a stirring, almost Churchillian, speech – as a result of which I spent several sleepless nights completely reworking the bid! The document ended up with a rather odd structure: a long introduction with seven appendices. The appendices had been the original bid!
Ultimately the bid succeeded: in autumn 1992 the Department of Health granted permission for the formation of the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital NHS Trust, which formally took control of the RLHH on 1 April 1993. It was the second smallest NHS Trust in the country (after Teddington Memorial Hospital NHS Trust). Dickson was appointed its first Chairman, serving until 1997. It is difficult to imagine how we would have found a successful resolution to this historic crisis in the RLHH's history without Dickson's shrewd reading of the situation, his political skill and connections and, above all, his robust optimism.
He went on to become President of the Faculty of Homeopathy in 1995. With Elizabeth Wincott as Chief Executive he played a significant role in modernising the Faculty. Born in Glasgow, a butcher's son, Dickson graduated in medicine from Glasgow University, where he was President of the Student Union. But he soon turned to politics; he was elected Labour for Greenock in December 1955, the youngest Labour MP at the time. He was twice Chair of the Scottish Parliamentary Labour party and a government minister for 9 years, including a period as Minister of State at the Department of Energy with responsibility for North Sea oil. He was appointed a Privy Councillor in 1977. He was a strong pro-European, defecting to the Social Democratic Party in 1981 over the Labour party's commitment to leave European Community and its infiltration by the hard left, claiming that ‘Trotskyists and other extremists have penetrated Labour's ranks to the core’. He lost his parliamentary seat in 1983, but rejoined the Labour party in 1991.
Dickson was of stocky build and his long parliamentary career made him blunt and outspoken, sometimes to the point of being abrasive. He did not immediately endear himself to everybody. But there was no malice in his forthrightness – he just said what he thought and thought what he said. Most of those who were on the receiving end understood this, quickly forgave him and sometimes even recognized that he was right!
We should not quickly forget Dickson's contribution to homeopathy and to saving the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital.