Lives of the fellows

Henry Pratt Newsholme

b.27 August 1885 d.21 December 1955
BSc Lond(1907) MA Oxon(1910) DPH Eng(1911) DM Oxon(1915) MRCP(1910) FRCP(1927)

Henry Pratt Newsholme was the only son of the Rev. B. Pratt and Mary, daughter of Robert Newsholme, of Haworth, Yorkshire, and sister of Sir Arthur Newsholme, K.C.B., M.D., F.R.C.P., medical officer of the Local Government Board. The Rev. B. Pratt was a missionary in Southern India and made the first translation of the New Testament into Telegu. He lived at Secunderabad, where his son was born and christened Henry Newsholme. Mrs Pratt died soon after Henry’s birth, and, as it was considered the boy’s health would suffer if he remained in India, he was sent to reside with his uncle and aunt (then Dr and Mrs Arthur Newsholme) at Brighton where Sir Arthur was the medical officer of health.

Henry Newsholme Pratt’s name was changed to Henry Pratt Newsholme and, though he was never formally adopted, he was treated as an adopted son, Sir Arthur Newsholme taking over all the care and expense of his upbringing. Henry was educated at Brighton Grammar School, entered Balliol College, Oxford, in 1903, and St. Thomas’s Hospital in 1907.

After holding the appointment of house physician at St. Thomas’s Hospital, Newsholme decided to specialise in public health. In 1910 he joined the staff of the London County Council as an assistant school medical officer; in the following year he became assistant medical officer and resident medical officer at Brighton Borough Hospital. From 1912 to 1914 he was assistant medical officer at Southend-on-Sea, and in 1914 became assistant medical officer to the Surrey County Council. While holding these posts he was also lecturer in public health at St. Thomas’s Hospital. His public health work in England was interrupted by the First World War, during which, as captain in the R.A.M.C., he served in France and Italy from 1915 to 1918.

After the war Newsholme was assistant medical officer in Wiltshire for a few months, and was next appointed county medical officer of the North Riding of Yorkshire in 1919. In 1923 hebecame medical officer of health of the county borough of Croydon, in which post he displayed so much administrative ability that in 1927 he was chosen out of a large number of applicants to succeed Sir John Robertson as medical officer of health of Birmingham.

At Birmingham he continued to develop the public health services which Robertson had soundly established. He succeeded in coordinating without fusion the public health and school medical services which were primarily independent. The health records of the city continued to be excellent; for example, the infant-mortality rate was below that for England and Wales. Newsholme’s annual reports, ably written in good English, received wide recognition.

His responsibilities as medical officer of health increased during his term of office, partly through the growth of the city and partly through increased public health legislation. They were added to by the Second World War, when for five years he shared with his junior medical officers the exacting Civil Defence duties at central control. After the war he had much to do with the smooth transfer of the civic hospitals to the National Health Service.

On his retirement, the City Council expressed its high appreciation of his services. From 1927 to 1941 Newsholme was professor of hygiene and public health in Birmingham University. He examined in these subjects in the Universities of Bristol and Birmingham.

He married in 1914 Kathleen, the daughter of the Rev. and Mrs Denness Cooper, of Westcliff, Rayleigh, Essex. They had three sons and two daughters. Two of the sons embraced medicine. The elder son, Arthur, entered general practice in Hampshire, the third, George, became a radiotherapist in the United Birmingham Hospitals, and the second, Christopher, a veterinary surgeon at Chelmsford.

Henry Newsholme opened his daily work at the office with prayer. Any member of his staff was welcome and a number attended regularly. At one time he was deacon at Carrs Lane Congregational Church. In 1939 he and his wife were received into the Roman Catholic Church. He was elected president of the Midland Catholic Medical Society in 1949.

Newsholme was slightly built, fair, clean-shaven, of medium height, and for many years retained his youthful appearance. From his undergraduate days he was shy, modest and retiring, so that, in spite of his great abilities and wide experience, he never sought that leading position in public health and social medicine which was his due. He did his work quietly, ably and efficiently, and was understanding and kind to those who served on his staff and to all who came to him for counsel and help. He died at the age of seventy.

Richard R Trail

[, 1956, 1, 116; Lancet, 1956, 1, 57-8; Times, 24 Dec. 1955.]

(Volume V, page 307)

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