Lives of the fellows

Henry Stanley Banks

b.17 February 1890 d.28 November 1969
MA Glasgow(1910) MB BCh(1913) DPH Cantab(1916) MRCP(1942) FRCP(1947)

Banks was one of the leading infectious diseases clinicians in Britain. Entering his specialty at a time when the infectious fevers were a serious cause of mortality, he lived to see the outlook in his subject completely transformed by a combination of improved methods of treatment, immunisation, and secular changes in the severity of some diseases.

He held junior hospital appointments in Glasgow at the Western Infirmary, the Victoria Infirmary, and Belvidere Fever Hospital, the last of these appointments providing an introduction to the subject that he was later to make his own. From 1916-1919 he served as Captain in the RAMC at 28th General Hospital BEF, Salonika, and was mentioned in despatches.

After the war he spent seven years as medical officer of health and medical superintendent of the isolation hospital at Motherwell, and in 1926 was appointed medical superintendent of the city isolation hospital and sanatorium at Leicester. It was at Leicester that he began to make his mark in the field of infectious fevers. During the whole of his career he displayed a restless enthusiasm for all new forms of treatment, but during the period at Leicester his main continuing interest was the serum treatment of diphtheria, scarlet fever, and meningococcal infections. He made an important contribution to the treatment of diphtheria, bringing a note of urgency into the treatment of hypertoxic diphtheria by giving antitoxin intravenously in doses much larger than those generally used at the time. His claims for greatly improved results were confirmed by others and this method of treatment later came into general use.

In 1933 Banks was appointed medical superintendent of the Park Fever Hospital of the LCC at Hither Green, and he remained at this Hospital until his retirement in 1955. His early years in London saw some controversy as a result of his strong advocacy of the routine serum treatment of scarlet fever. For many years scarlet fever had been undergoing a secular change in severity, and at this time severe cases were becoming much less common than formerly. Most clinicians were unconvinced of the benefits claimed for routine serum treatment and felt that scarlatinal antitoxin, with its far-from-negligible risk of side effects, should be reserved for severe cases. Banks found himself almost alone in this argument, but he was not the man to be deterred by this reception of his views and the controversy continued until the coming of the sulphonamides provided a form of treatment acceptable to all.

His interest in meningococcal infections continued. With the coming of sulphonamides he adopted them as the treatment of choice in preference to the intensive serotherapy he had previously used. An epidemic of meningococcal infection in 1940 and 1941 gave him wide experience and provided much of the subject matter of his Milroy Lecture (1945) on Meningococcosis: a protean disease.

In 1944 he was recruited for two years to UNRRA, serving in North Africa, Italy, Yugoslavia and Germany. On his return to London the common infectious diseases were being admitted to hospital much less frequently. From 1947 onwards poliomyelitis became epidemic and this disease provided Banks with his main interest until his retirement in 1955.

While at the Park Hospital, Banks lectured on infectious diseases to students at Guy’s and St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical Schools. In 1949 he wrote a book The Common Infectious Diseases, intended for undergraduates, and in 1951 he contributed to and edited a larger work in two volumes entitled Modern Practice in Infectious Fevers. He played a competent game of lawn tennis, and on his regular winter sports holiday in Austria he was an enthusiastic ice skater. When he retired he went to live at Leatherhead in Surrey. For a period he was part-time publications officer at the headquarters of the Medical Research Council. He married in 1916 and had a son, who entered the profession of medicine, and a daughter. His wife died in 1965, and he remarried the following year.

Ian Taylor

[Brit.med.J., 1969, 4, 692; 1970, 1, 180; Lancet, 1969, 2, 1313; Kentish Mercury, 4 Mar 1955; Lewisham Journal, 1 Apr 1955]

(Volume VI, page 27)

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