Lives of the fellows

Richard Osborne Hughes

b.20 December 1939 d.19 June 1983
BSc Liverp(1960) MB ChB(1963) MRCP(1967) FRCP(1982)

Richard Hughes was born at Preston, Lancashire, and educated in Birkenhead before studying medicine at Liverpool University, where he qualified in 1963, having obtained BSc with honours in physiology in 1960. Apart from a year in Leeds, his junior posts were in the Liverpool hospitals and at one stage he was senior house officer to CA Clarke (now Sir Cyril), who was later elected president of the College. From 1969 to 1974 he was senior registrar to the Liverpool hospitals. In 1974 he was appointed consultant to the geriatric department at Clatterbridge Hospital, Wirral.

Richard’s father was David Osborne Hughes, a consultant chest physician. In 1964 he married Jennifer Jane, whose father, William Bryan, was an optician and pharmacist. Pharmacy was closely associated with the family, for his own grandfather and aunt had followed this profession, and so did his wife and her brother. He and his wife had two children; a son and a daughter.

When he came to Clatterbridge in 1974 he had a few sessions in general medicine, but the majority were in geriatric medicine and he joined two other physicians in this specialty, which had grown rapidly in the 1960s owing to the activity of these two doctors and the general political and emotional atmosphere reigning in the country at that time. In general medicine he shared a ward with another physician who had already been there for 20 years with the same nursing staff, which must have been a demanding and daunting experience. Fortunately, they were both tolerant men, both possessed a sense of humour and perhaps a slightly cynical understanding of the politics of medicine, so that a happy relationship quickly developed.

At first Richard Hughes showed a partiality for finding rare conditions, but he eventually found that sparrows were more common than hoopoes. At a time when there was no such common knowledge, he was particularly interested in the interaction of drugs, clearly the result of his close relationship with the pharmacological profession. Later, he realized the need for an endoscopy clinic in Wirral, and with very little financial backing, and in somewhat primitive conditions, he established one. Hughes became adept at the technique and very knowledgeable about gastroenterology, and he instilled his enthusiasm in his junior colleagues, so that his successive registrars carried on his techniques when they progressed to other hospitals.

Sadly, he had no very clear ability to tell the time, and so much of the work was done when the blood sugar of patients, medical and nursing staff, was low, but despite this they were all enthusiastic and glad to be his patients and pupils, and perhaps also intrigued by some of the revelations produced by intravenous diazepam.

He was somewhat diffident and insecure at first, and had difficulty in communicating with those under his care. But as time passed he developed a real interest in his patients, their problems and their welfare. Perhaps seeing the modest results which could be obtained by applying the very demanding disciplines of rehabilitation to the elderly, he felt that they could be more successful when applied to the young disabled person. He threw himself into this project with great enthusiasm, in a specially built unit for this work, and was once again rewarded by the respect and liking of those he treated.

Richard Hughes then entered the jungle of medical politics, becoming chairman of the medical advisory committee of Clatterbridge Hospital, chairman of the district consultants advisory team and consultant representative on the district management team. No doubt he realized that if major modifications had to be made in the local application of medicine, it was there that power and influence dwelt. Such modifications were, indeed, badly needed, because the commissioning of a new and over-large district hospital, and the consequent down-grading of the previously excellent Clatterbridge Hospital where he worked, produced unhappy results in the field of hospital medicine.

Unhappily, his life was too short for him to achieve his full potential. He died following a major car accident, enduring a month in the intensive care unit, stoical to the end.

MWW Wood

[Brit.med.J., 1983, 287, 369]

(Volume VII, page 281)

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