The History of Reading Dispensary Trust

In 1802, Reading Medical Dispensary was set up for “administering advice and medicines to the industrious poor at the Dispensary, or in some cases in their own habitations”.

This public Dispensary was instigated by Drs Thomas, Salmon and Barry with the help of some wealthy people in the town who were concerned that poor people had no medical care other than quack treatments.  By becoming a Life Governor for a subscription of ten guineas, the subscriber could nominate up to three poor people to be treated at the Dispensary.  Donations came from people whose names are now familiar in Reading, including Valpy, Blagrave and Zinzan.  Occasionally, magistrates directed that fines levied, for example, for poaching or for assault should be paid to the Medical Dispensary.

A Resident Dispenser was installed in a house in Chain Lane, rented for the purpose by Reading Medical Dispensary. By 1806, 400 patients had been treated.  By 1832 the number had risen to 18,000 and included the inauguration of smallpox vaccination from 1815.

The Dispensary gave a substantial donation towards the new Royal Berkshire Hospital in 1839.

In 1870 a Provident Scheme was introduced.  Members paid one penny per week and had the right to medical treatment.  For an additional penny, wives and children could be included.

2850 people were treated in 1870.  Treatment was provided at the premises in Chain Lane.  A branch dispensary was opened at 16 Wokingham Road in 1893 and a dental service started.

Some income was derived from Church collections.  In 1886 the Annual Report records that some clergy nominated a great number of people for treatment but provided little money from their collections.

By the end of the 19th century the premises in Chain Lane (Street) and Wokingham Road had been bought and doctors were employed for five days per week.  The scope of the work now extended to women’s diseases.

With the introduction of welfare (health insurance) legislation between 1908 and 1912, the work of the Dispensary was taken over by the new local Medical Service.

This marked the end of Reading Medical Dispensary as a provider of medical treatments to those who were too poor to afford them otherwise.  The role changed to that of funding those who could not afford insurance and was known as Reading Medical Society.  Grants were given for District Nursing and to Royal Berkshire Hospital.  During World War 1 refugees were helped, including 30 Serbian boys.

In the 1920’s many requests for help came from older people who were in poverty.  During the 1930’s, a time of high unemployment, the Society ran into financial difficulties because of the discrepancy between donations and demand.  The Committee appealed for donations to “what is believed to be the oldest charity of its kind in the country”.

During World War 2 increased employment meant that more people could pay for treatment and the deficits recorded were reduced.  Many wives and families of servicemen were helped.

The role of the society changed again with the introduction of the National Health Service.  The emphasis was on making grants which would help ill people back to health or improve their lives and which could not be provided by NHS.  These could include convalescence, extra nourishment and special equipment.

In 1974 the premises in Chain Street was sold to Heelas (now John Lewis) for £225,000.  This money provided the capital from which income is generated to make grants to those who are eligible for assistance.  The Trust Deed was altered to become a Charity Commission Scheme; this is still regarded as the Governing Document the terms of which restricts help to those people who are physically or mentally ill or disabled, and to organisations concerned with these groups.

Many of the grants in the 70’s were to help sick people afford convalescent holidays

Reading Dispensary Trust celebrated its bicentenary in 2002 at an event in Reading Town Hall.

In line with changes in medicine and society during the last three decades, money is granted for the purchase of white goods, housing adaptations, EPVs.  Grants towards costs associated with re-housing people who have mental health problems have increased.

The Reading Dispensary Trust will continue to adapt so as to meet the needs of people with illnesses and disabilities.