Lives of the fellows

Hugo Droller

b.19 March 1909 d.29 December 1995
MD Munich(1933) LRCP LRCSE LRFPS(1935) MRCP Edin(1939) MRCP(1946) FRCP Edin(1962) FRCP(1965)

Hugo Droller was the first consultant geriatrician in Leeds. His work laid the foundations for the city’s preeminence as a centre of geriatric medicine. He was one of a band of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany who, like Sir Ludwig Guttmann [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.233] and Oscar Olbrich, came to Britain and greatly enriched medicine in their adoptive country.

Hugo was born in Munich, the son of a German merchant. He qualified in Munich in 1933, but because of Jewish persecution left Germany almost immediately afterwards. By 1934 he was in Britain attending Belfast Medical School and within a year had acquired British qualifications. He then moved to Sheffield where he became a house physician to Sir Edward Wayne [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.565], a prestigious appointment for a refugee. He later became a clinical assistant to Sir (later Lord) Robert Platt [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.470]. It was part of his duty to do the clinical biochemistry and haematology for his chief’s patients. He was good in the laboratory and in 1939 went on to become a clinical pathologist at the City General Hospital in Sheffield. In 1940, when Britain feared a German invasion, he was interned in the Isle of Man, but was soon released. For the rest of the war he was a medical registrar and medical tutor in Sheffield. After the war in 1946, having acquired British nationality, he joined the RAMC, serving first as a medical specialist and rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel in command of a medical division in Egypt and Kenya.

His military service over, he was offered a senior registrarship in general medicine, but felt he had been in training long enough. Instead he was persuaded by his friend John Pemberton, senior lecturer at the department of social and industrial medicine under W Hobson, to join him as a Nuffield research scholar. He was required to make full medical examinations of old people in their homes. Hugo wrote several papers including one on falls, the first in which all the subjects had been medically examined.

The experience taught him the fascination of working with the elderly, the importance of social factors and, as he wrote, "I needed to earn a living". In 1950 he was appointed consultant in geriatric medicine at St James’s Hospital, Leeds. In notes held at the British Geriatrics Society (BGS) he wrote: "And so I came to Leeds, to a Victorian workhouse. The only impressive thing about it was the façade and the front staircase. I began with 1300 beds and one staff. The nurses were devoted, most of them SENs, the conditions appalling, with overcrowding and lack of privacy the most worrying. There was a waiting list of over 600, most of it phoney because the patients had died or got better. So we had a blitz on the waiting list and reduced it to manageable proportions…I found on arrival that patients had been simply forgotten and left in hospital because no one had thought of discharging them. So some patients were discharged home or to newly established Part III accommodation."

He had a long battle with the conventional physicians, but was supported by the surgeons and eventually he gained acceptance, a second consultant, a SHMO and junior staff. He reduced the beds and established out-patient clinics, a rehabilitation gymnasium and an occupational therapy department with kitchen. He learned early the value of collaboration with the local authority and had weekly meetings with social workers and health visitors. One of his innovations was a relatives clinic.

He was a well known figure at BGS meetings and served on the executive. He wrote many papers on the medical and social aspects of geriatric medicine. He was an authority on the fate of hemiplegic patients and published a ten year follow up in 1965.

Despite his great intellect he was modest and approachable, with a delightful sense of humour and had the capacity to put everyone at their ease. He always wore a bow tie. It amused him to park his ageing Ford alongside the gleaming Jaguars and Rovers of the part time consultants with big private practices. His main recreation was his annual skiing holiday. He was a fine linguist and read medical literature in many languages. He was a student of Hebrew and played the cello and the flute. He married a fellow German doctor, Balbina Lurje, in 1937 and they had one daughter who became a professor of psychology. He died after a series of heart attacks.

R E Irvine

[Brit.med.J., 1996,312,438]

(Volume X, page 117)

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