Lives of the fellows

Arnold Bloom

b.6 April 1915 d.22 November 1992
MRCS LRCP(1939) MB BS Lond(1942) MD(1947) MRCP(1947) FRCP (1964)

Arnold Bloom was born in Chester and educated at King’s School, Chester, where he was head boy and a keen oarsman. In 1935 he won an open scholarship to Guy’s Hospital medical school - five of the prize winners that year later became Fellows of the College. After qualification he took up house appointments at Gravesend and North Kent, then St Nicholas Hospital, Plumstead and St Alfege’s Hospital, Greenwich. He passed the MB BS examination in 1942. In the same year he married Edith Fox, daughter of a civil engineer.

After several attempts to get into the Royal Navy he was commissioned surgeon lieutenant RNVR in 1943. Later that year he joined HMS Urania and served in her until he was demobilized in 1946. During his naval service Urania acted as a destroyer escort for troops landing in Northern France in 1944; later she was sent to the Mediterranean and later still to the Far East.

On demoblization he was appointed senior hospital medical officer in the then London County Council medical service at Archway Hospital. In 1947 he gained his MD and his membership of the College. Five years later he was appointed consultant physician to the Whittington Hospital, at first as full-time physician but in 1954 he went part-time and started private practice in Harley Street.

He served on the council of the College in 1963 as a members’ representative and was elected a Fellow in 1964. He was elected a full member of council, 1971-74, and second vice-president of the College for the year 1980-81. He was also an examiner in the membership from 1969-83. He retired from the NHS in 1980 and from private practice nine years later.

Arnold Bloom’s principle interest was in diabetes to which he made important contributions. He was an active member of the British Diabetic Association and of its medical and scientific section, which he joined at its inception in 1960 and of which he became chairman 1978-81. He was chairman of the council of the BDA from 1980-86. In 1982 he gave the Banting memorial lecture, his title being ‘Diabetes in children: an eclectic view’.

Arnold Bloom was essentially a clinician. His qualities of humour, lightness of touch, good nature, intelligence and great practicality, made him an ideal colleague and a splendid clinician. His first and last concern was the care of patients, at which he excelled. He had a sharp brain and a sharp but kindly tongue. His contribution to any discussion, especially those at the BDA, were not only to the point but highly practical and often amusing. The most high-flown speaker could not object when Arnold put him down with a smile by asking some elementary question that the speaker had not thought of. He was always sceptical, never more so than when commenting on a recent fad in using (?) dietary fibre in the management of diabetes. He once memorably remarked that it might be better for the patients to eat their diet cards than to read them, a comment typical of the man.

His publications were nearly all concerned with diabetes and its clinical aspects, for example its treatment with tablets in the 1950s when they were first introduced. In a talk to a meeting at Oxford soon after sulphonylureas came on the market, when their mode of action was unknown, he finished by saying ‘I was going to explain their pharmacological mechanism but I see my time is up.’ In 1958, when phenformin (phenethyl biguanide) was introduced he reported early clinical experiences drawing attention to its limitations, particularly its gastrointestinal side effects. Every aspect of diabetic care interested him and he published on retinopathy, early partial remission and all the long term complications.

He was a clear and admirable speaker and teacher and played a large part in the famous postgraduate course at the Whittington. His role was essentially that of teacher and clinician rather than original research worker but he collaborated in several research trials. It must have given him pleasure to be a joint author with his son Stephen, with others, in a paper on the role of glucogen in diabetes in The Lancet in 1975. He also wrote an editorial in the British Medical Journal in 1985 on insulin syringes for diabetics; he suggested that plastic syringes could safely be reused several times and this greatly simplified insulin injections. He wrote or edited several books and booklets, including Atlas of diabetes, jointly, and Diabetes explained, Aylesbury, UK, MTP Medical and Technical Pub.Co., designed for patients, which went through four editions between 1971 and 1982.

Arnold Bloom developed progressive supranuclear palsy which advanced fairly rapidly but he refused to submit to his disability. A year before his death, when showing a friend round his lovely house at Hundon near Clare, in Suffolk, he said ‘I have never been happier in my life.’ He will be remembered by friends and colleagues, who are one and the same thing, for as long as they themselves live for being such fun to be with, even when severely disabled, for being - in short -so loveable. He gave the impression of always being in a good humour, friendly and amused. It cannot presumably be true, but he seemed to be a man without a blemish.

Arnold and Edith had three sons; the eldest Stephen Robert was elected a Fellow of the College in 1978 and was Goulstonian lecturer in 1979. His brothers were Nicholas and Andrew. Andrew, who was also a doctor, died some years ago.

D A Pyke

[Brit.med.J., 1993,306,58; Living w.diabetes, no.l34,June-July 1993]

(Volume IX, page 43)

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