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A public dispensary, charitable dispensary or free dispensary gives advice and medicines free-of-charge, or for a small charge.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries a provident dispensary was a clinic offering medical care to people who made a small weekly payment as a kind of medical insurance. If and when they became ill they were entitled to out-patient treatment at the dispensary.
In the 19th century it was not unusual in the United Kingdom to combine the subscription (provident) arrangement with charitable provision.
One of the earlier English cities to have a provident dispensary was Coventry (dispensary opened in 1830) where, in the 1840s, members subscribed one penny a week for adults and a halfpenny a week for each of their children. This was seen as a suitable arrangement for working-class people who wanted to be provident and self-reliant, avoiding charitable treatment offered to 'paupers', but with no hope of paying the fees charged to wealthier people. A provident dispensary needed a few hundred 'club' members to pay for one doctor. Some dispensaries had extra funding from philanthropists, and some arranged for hospital specialists to see dispensary patients at reduced fees. Doctors at a few provident dispensaries, in London for example, would visit patients at home.
A provident dispensary was opened in Buffalo, New York in the second half of the 19th century.
In some places the same need might be met by friendly societies organised by the members themselves. Provident dispensaries, on the other hand, were usually set up by prosperous well-wishers and/or by a doctor, as Sophia Jex-Blake did in Edinburgh, with support from a committee.
Examples of pre-20th century dispensaries for patients who could not pay a doctor's usual fee include:
- Ardwick and Ancoats Dispensary, Manchester, England. Founded in 1828 and managed under the auspices of the Provident Dispernsary Association from 1875
- Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, United States, founded 1855
- Edinburgh Provident Dispensary for Women and Children, Scotland, founded 1878
- Dispensary for Chinese at Macau, founded in 1820 by the Scottish missionary Robert Morrison and John Livingstone, a surgeon with the East India Company
- The Foundery free dispensary, in London's Moorfields, was opened by Methodist preacher John Wesley in 1746.
- Finsbury Dispensary, London, England, founded 1780
- Public Dispensary of Edinburgh, Scotland, founded 1776 (received royal charter in 1818 to become Royal Public Dispensary of Edinburgh)
- St. Mary's Dispensary for Women, London, England, founded 1866
- Sydney Dispensary, Australia, founded 1826
- Toronto Western Hospital, Canada, founded 1895
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Public dispensaries.|
- "Manchester City Council Planning and Highways Committee". Manchester City Council. 28 June 2012. Retrieved 20 July 2013.