Lives of the fellows

Eric Henry Rhys Harries

b.12 January 1882 d.12 January 1960
MB BS Lond(1907) MD Lond(1910) DPH Liverp(1910) MRCS LRCP(1906) MRCP(1936) FRCP(1942)

Eric Harries was born at Tufnell Park, North London. He was the eldest son of Arthur John Harries, who had qualified M.R.C.S. (Eng.) in 1880 and had taken the M.D. (Brussels) in 1881, and came from an old mine-owning family in South Wales. His mother had been Miss A. Green, the daughter of an Army officer. He was educated at several schools in London, but principally at Alleyn’s School, Dulwich, from which in September 1900 he matriculated to enter the London Hospital Medical College, where he gained the Entrance science scholarship and the Letheby prize in chemistry.

Early appointments were at the Children’s Hospital, Tite Street, Chelsea, and at Fazakerly Hospital, Liverpool. Here he came under the influence of Claude Rundle, and so began his interest in infectious diseases. Later he served at the Park Hospital for Infectious Diseases, Hither Green, London, then under the control of the Metropolitan Asylums Board.

In 1914 he entered the Welsh Memorial Tuberculosis Service based at Newport (Mon.). He remained in this Service until 1916, when he resigned to enter the R.A.M.C, as a captain. He saw service in Mesopotamia and India—mostly engaged in the control of infectious diseases and in laboratory work, and after a brief period in the Afghan War returned to the United Kingdom in 1919.

In 1920 Harries was appointed medical superintendent at Little Bromwich Fever Hospital, Birmingham, and it was here that he was to lay the foundations of his subsequent reputation. The Hospital was then an old-fashioned building, much too small and crowded to accommodate comfortably the hundreds of cases of diphtheria and scarlet fever requiring admission. Harries noted that the ratio of cross-infection within the Hospital increased almost in geometrical proportion to the density and propinquity of the ward population, and concluded that bed spacing and much more isolation accommodation were essential.

Ultimately he persuaded the municipal authorities to embark on a scheme of extension which resulted in the virtual rebuilding of the Hospital, converting it into one of the most up-to-date of its kind in the country. In addition to adequate bed spacing and the separate isolation of all cases with infectious discharges or skin lesions, he insisted on the masking of the staff, strict control of visiting by very young children, and immunisation of patients and staff; these were the principles on which he founded his attack.

He introduced immunisation of nurses against diphtheria and scarlet fever; the former was a conspicuous success, but the latter a failure for want of an effective antigen.

In 1931 he was appointed medical superintendent of the North Eastern Fever Hospital (later St. Ann’s) Tottenham, where history was to repeat itself. Plans for rebuilding were afoot and Harries entered into them wholeheartedly. The new hospital was completed just before the outbreak of World War II, and though now largely diverted to other purposes it remains a model fever hospital. He was thus able to give full rein to his preventive doctrines. In addition, he made notable efforts to bring the practice of medicine within isolation hospitals into line with modern advances.

He insisted on a new block containing a first-class operating theatre, a radiological centre, and a pathological department, and installed an electrocardiograph wired to the diphtheria wards for the study of cardiac lesions in that disease. Close liaison with the group laboratories, then recently set up by the London County Council, was maintained. Such was his reputation that in 1935 he was invited to deliver the Milroy lectures to the College on the control of infection in children’s wards.

He emphasised the necessity for the most careful training of nursing staff, and the provision of such staff on a generous scale if the work were to be satisfactorily carried out. Above all, he insisted on the lavish supply of wash basins with hot water and disposable towels, since he counted the roller towel and the nurse’s hands among the most important of all infectious agents.

In due course he became chief medical superintendent of the fever hospitals for the London County Council and as such had considerable say in hospital policy. In addition, he was chairman of the Medical Officers of Schools Association in 1938-9.

Harries was a first-rate clinician, an accurate and shrewd observer endowed with a vast knowledge of his subject. To work with him was an educational experience. He had, moreover, an acute sense of humour, which occasionally found expression in a corrosive wit. Unfortunately he did not take kindly to administration, which he regarded as tedious and unrewarding, absorbing time that would have been much better spent in the wards.

He married in 1914 Miss Edith Irene Brazel. Of the two children of the marriage the son, Bernard Harries, F.R.C.S., became neurosurgeon to University College Hospital, London, and vice-dean of its medical school.

Richard R Trail

[Brit.med.J., 1960, 1, 352-3; Lancet, 1960, 1, 231.]

(Volume V, page 172)

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