Lives of the fellows

Geoffrey Malcolm Barrett

b.24 November 1917 d.27 April 1995
BA Cantab(1939) MRCS LRCP(1942) MB Bchir(1943) MRCP(1945) MD(1948) FRCP(1964)

Geoffrey Barrett was a strong supporter of the principles of the National Health Service. He was born in London, but his childhood was spent in Gloucestershire, where his father, Ernest Barrett, the headmaster of Dursley School, instilled into him the high standards which he maintained throughout his life. He attended Cheltenham Grammar School and later Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. He went on to St Marys, London, for his clinical training. After qualifying he became a house physician and a medical registrar to Sir George Pickering [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.464] at St Mary’s Sector Hospital, Harefield, Middlesex. In September 1943 he was commissioned into the RAMC and was drafted to the Far East in December of that year. In India he was a medical specialist. He was demobilized in May 1947 with the rank of major and returned to St Mary’s in London as a registrar, subsequently becoming a senior registrar in medicine at Edgware General Hospital. During this time he wrote his MD thesis on the early diagnosis of intestinal amoebiasis, derived from his time serving in the RAMC.

In March 1950 he was appointed a consultant physician to the Lancaster and Kendal Group of Hospitals and he remained there for the rest of his professional life. He set about establishing a first class department of general medicine in a group of hospitals that had not previously had medical wards. He became known as an outstanding clinician and as a teacher par excellence. His early days as a consultant were spent travelling round north Lancashire and south Lakeland, visiting patients in their homes. He considered one of the most significant changes in the health service was the necessity for the patient to come to the doctor, rather than the other way round.

His undergraduate and registrar career had given him an academic background which enabled him to do important work on brucellosis and rheumatic conditions. In particular his work on brucellosis amongst the farming community in north Lancashire and Westmorland, which was published in the Quarterly Journal of Medicine, gained national recognition and was one of the factors which led to the elimination of brucellosis from the cattle herds in the district. He was one of an elite band of district hospital physicians elected to the Association of Physicians of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Geoffrey was a loyal and supportive friend, but not always the easiest of colleagues. He would fight to support what he felt was right for his patients and did not always accept the views of others. In particular he became unhappy with the place of private medicine in association with the National Health Service and would not tolerate those he felt were giving priority to private patients.

His very busy professional life left little time for other interests. In 1943 he met and married Phyllis Batchelor who was a radiographer at Harefield Hospital when he was working there. They had two sons and a daughter. His main interest outside medicine was his garden. He was a real plantsman and had a sound botanical knowledge. In retirement Geoffrey and Phyllis shared their time between their home in Lancaster and a cottage in Roxburgh, finally moving to Kelso in 1994, which he was to enjoy for just a few months. He developed hypertension in the 1950s and ischaemic heart disease in the early 1960s, to which he finally succumbed.

A R Adamson

[Brit.med.J., 1995,31 1,804]

(Volume X, page 23)

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