Lives of the fellows

Henry McCalmont Giles

b.13 June 1921 d.14 December 1993
MB BChir Cantab( 1944) MRCS LRCP(1944) DCH(1945) MRCP(1946) FRCP(1970)

During a long career Henry Giles helped develop paediatric services in Birmingham. The son of a bank manager, he was born and educated in Belfast before going up to Cambridge and then to St Bartholomew’s Hospital to study medicine. Following resident jobs at Bart’s, he spent two years in Malaysia with the RAMC. He returned to Bart’s as a demonstrator in pathology and thereafter pursued his paediatric career at Great Ormond Street, Westminster Children’s Hospital and as a senior registrar at St Mary’s Hospital. During his appointment at St Mary’s he spent two years as a senior assistant resident and teaching fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital in the States.

In 1956 he moved to Birmingham as consultant paediatrician. Based at Selly Oak Hospital, he had wide responsibilities in many other units including Sorrento Maternity Hospital, Little Bromwich Hospital (now Birmingham Heartlands Hospital). For many years he was a single handed consultant. During his appointment in Birmingham he was seconded to the University College of Rhodesia in Salisbury as visiting professor of paediatrics.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of his career was the development from scratch, by slow dogged persistence, of a comprehensive secondary paediatric service for children in South Birmingham, integrating all aspects of neonatal, hospital, community and psychiatric care of children. A further contribution to service development was his medical leadership and wise counsel in the opening and early running of the Acorns Children’s Hospice. Six days before his death he was at the Lord Mayor of Birmingham’s charity dinner in support of the hospice and was expected at the hospice the day he died.

Clinically he was proud of being a general paediatrician able to give an opinion on any child ranging from a diagnosis of normality to the need for tertiary referral. He encouraged his colleagues to develop their interests (for example in oncology, cystic fibrosis and learning problems) even though he had to shoulder more of the general paediatric work. He had his own special interests. Pyelonephritis in infancy had attracted his attention during his pathology appointment at Bart’s. This renal interest continued with other publications on the nephrotic syndrome and the establishment of a joint clinic with urology colleagues at Selly Oak. Joint medical/surgical clinics are common place now but were visionary in 1956. He was quick to pass on the benefits of the pharmacological revolution to his young patients but also cautioned about the dangers; he described imipramine poisoning in childhood and was the first to suggest the connection between Reye’s syndrome and therapeutic doses of aspirin in febrile children. This led to a study of the immediate and longer term management of febrile convulsions. Apart from the medical aspects, he was a pioneer in the social and emotional aspects of hospital care for children. He introduced free hospital visiting by parents shortly after his arrival in Selly Oak. Some staff left in protest, but he persisted with a policy now regarded as normal. He actively co-operated with the National Association for the Welfare of Children in Hospital (now Action for Sick Children) - at a time when the organization was regarded by some as an anarchic patients’ rights conspiracy. He encouraged play leaders and groups in his wards and in his out-patients.

A further major contribution was a firm conviction to take paediatrics and child health outside the confines of the hospital walls. He was a member of the Court committee which produced Fit for the future, London, HMSO, 1976. This led to the development of sub-specialty and general paediatric services in hospitals, and also the concept of community paediatrics, a consultant-led specialist service for children outside hospital, providing preventative services for the healthy and specialist clinical care for the chronically ill. He had a particular interest in and published work on child neglect and abuse. Henry was a Royal College of Physicians man and had doubts about the need for a College of Paediatrics and Child Health but he commented that the perceived lack of a community dimension in the College of Physicians (at that time) was an Achilles heel.

The chronology and the achievements - but what of the man? He knew he could explain matters in ten elegant sentences (even more over a pint) when one snappy one would do, that his ward rounds exhausted everyone except him, and that his registrars and hospital administrators hated Saturday morning clinics specially designed for children who did not wish to miss school. As an Ulsterman he was deeply saddened by the ‘troubles’. When president of the section of paediatrics of the Royal Society of Medicine he organized his presidential meeting with colleagues in Dublin - a gesture of compassion over conflict. He was interested in the history of the First World War - often visiting Flanders. He was proud of his family’s supreme sacrifice in that conflict. He was a keen Aston Villa supporter. He also encouraged youngsters to take part in competitive events and felt they were a good alternative attraction to such problems as drugs. He had a love of poetry, particularly the work of the First World War poets. He enjoyed opera, particularly performances by the Welsh National Opera.

Above all, he was a family man. On one journey to Malaysia in his RAMC days he met his wife Evelyn (Lyn) Huntriss over a Times crossword. They both loved words and Henry continued to do The Times crossword every day. They had a son and three daughters.

B Wharton

[Brit.med.J., 1994,308,1098]

(Volume X, page 165)

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