Lives of the fellows

Arthur Leslie Banks

b.21 January 1904 d.14 January 1989
MRCS LRCP(1926) MB BS Lond(1927) MD(1932) DPH(1933) MRCP(1936) FRCP(1948) MA Cantab

Leslie Banks was born in Hertfordshire and educated at Friern Barnet Grammar School and the Middlesex Hospital. After house officer posts at the Middlesex and Warneford hospitals from 1926-28,he entered the Post Office medical service. During his six years in the service he took a part-time DPH course and obtained a London MD and the DPR In 1934 he moved to the London County Council’s headquarters medical staff (later the Greater London Council, now abolished) and thence, after three years, to the medical staff of the Ministry of Health.

Plans were then being made for wartime services and, after a preparatory period, Leslie was sent at the outbreak of war to the Cambridge regional office of the Ministry to take charge of liaison with health services in East Anglia, which ran in parallel with the Emergency Hospital Services, and which in this rural area involved heavy responsibilities for the care of evacuees from London. In particular, East Anglia and the North Midlands took the brunt of medical care for women who were moved out of London late in pregnancy; Leslie Banks has reported on the special arrangements which were successfully made. He was so effective in his link role with colleagues in Public Health that he came to be seen as one of them rather than an emissary from The Ministry; indeed on one occasion a deputation going to London demanded that he accompany them to set his own headquarters to rights.

After the 1944 White Paper on the NHS he was also expected to work part-time in London on the detailed planning, and later the implementation of the NHS. His rise to the rank of principal medical officer within ten years of joining the Ministry staff was then quite exceptional.

During this period he had also undertaken two other diversions: he had been studying for the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn, he was called to the Bar and further succeeded - in competition with his fellow aspirants -in winning the first Viscount Bennett prize. Shortly afterwards he was seconded to Newcastle in 1946, temporarily without a MOH because Sir John Charles [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.98] had been recruited to assist Sir Wilson Jameson [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.212] with the work on the NHS at the Ministry. Had not his links with Cambridge become so strong, Leslie Banks might well have stayed in Newcastle. But Cambridge, guided by the regius professor, Sir Lionel Whitby [Munks Roll, Vol.V, p.444], invited him to their newly established chair of human ecology which he held for the next 21 years.

Cambridge was not a suitable place for the School of Social Medicine that this country so badly needed, any more than Oxford had proved to be under John Ryle [Munk's Roll, Vol. IV, p.595]. Leslie would have led such a school well, in the right place, but he still made a major contribution to the development of the medical school in Cambridge, and to the work of other faculties. He represented Cambridge on the GMC, and the GMC on the GDC. He was a member of both the regional hospital board and the board of governors. He managed to build the nucleus of a team which could undertake field studies in health care - the sudden infant death syndrome, the use of diagnostic services by GPs, trends in geographical patterns of disease, rehabilitation of university students after illness. He was increasingly consulted by the World Health Organisation, and did field work for them in the developing countries - in the new fields which were their first concern.

He was a Fellow of Gonville and Caius, and when he retired he was elected emeritus professor of human ecology, Cambridge. In 1971 he moved from Cambridge to Geneva so that he could work more continuously for WHO. The last five years of his life were spent in retirement in Oxfordshire.

Leslie married Mary Barrett, the daughter of the artist Sidney Barrett, in 1933 and they had two sons. One son died young, and Mary’s early death was also a source of great sadness to him.

In the 1940s Leslie seemed likely to be one of the leaders in the Ministry of Health as the NHS evolved. It was a loss to the NHS that Cambridge enticed him away. Although he contributed much to the evolution of the Cambridge medical school, the wider field of the NHS was the loser thereby. Leslie had a great ability to gain the confidence of others and, unobtrusively, to prompt them to future action. To one who was a younger colleague he remained a true friend and supporter. If he might have done more at the centre of things, Cambridge and East Anglia would have been the losers and certainly the work of WHO for developing countries would have lacked an able advocate and invaluable guide. Perhaps he was right to choose the field in which his contribution would be most marked - but he was sadly missed at the Ministry of Health.

Sir George Godber

(Volume IX, page 22)

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