Sunday 21 July 2013

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" and old men, "Thanks" to an old Professor of Geriatric Medicine called John Brocklehurst

John,who has died at the age of 89, was the leading geriatrician of his generation and old men and women in Britain have reason to be grateful for the key contributions he made to their clinical care and to the way their medical services should be organised.

What you possibly didn't know about John, that he :

* was born in Liverpool, where his father was electrical engineer and grew up with his parents Baptist beliefs, was educated at Glasgow High School and Ayr Academy (right) and graduated from Glasgow University as a medical doctor at the age of 26 in 1950.

* after working in junior hospital posts and a two-year spell as senior medical officer on the troopship 'Medway', inspired by his religion he joined the Grenfell Mission in Labrador, Canada, as medical officer in 1955, returned to Britain in 1957 and became a consultant geriatrician in various hospitals for nearly a decade, managing to fit research around his punishing clinical work load.

* was appointed a Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester at the age of 46 in 1970, where his department acquired an international reputation, enhanced by the 'Unit for Biological Ageing Research' which he created.

* not only played a key role in establishing old-age medicine as a thriving academic discipline but did not distance him from the practical needs of patients and added to the understanding and management of urinary and faecal incontinence, a topic of supreme importance to many thousands of old people and the subject of his first book in 1951.

* brought scientific gerontology to bear on the understanding of the diseases of old age and his commitment to bringing together science and daily practice resulted in his monumental 'Textbook of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology' in 1973, pre-eminent in its field and now in its seventh edition.

* showed how biological ageing modifies the symptoms of disease and an old man or woman with, for example, a chest infection leading to not only a cough and shortness of breath but also confusion, incontinence or falls, a realisation which meant that in an old person there might be a readily remedial cause for what might have seemed an irreversible change.

* made significant contributions to the understanding of stroke, falls, and nutrition and therapeutics in old age and his research into day hospitals and geriatric rehabilitation units as user-friendly settings for the investigation and treatment of some frail old people has a particular resonance today in the light of revelations of inappropriate and often negligent care.

* was President of the British Geriatrics Society from 1984-86 and, following his retirement, took a leading role in the Royal College of Physicians Research Unit from 1989-98.

* travelled widely, was an excellent mandolin player and a talented artist whose portraits were particularly striking.

* attended the Manchester Medical Society meeting of past Presidents in 2003 seated bottom row second in from the right.

His friend Raymond Tallis wrote of him :

'John was a modest, courteous man with a quiet sense of humour. The last time I met him, a few days before his death, he talked in particular about his time in Labrador. Although he had lost the religious underpinning of the vocation that took him there, he retained the commitment to making the world a better place as a humanist.'

What better epitaph might an old man have ?

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