Lives of the fellows

Philip Henry Connell

b.6 July 1921 d.26 July 1998
CBE(1986) MRCS LRCP(1951) MB BS Lond(1951) DPM(1956) MD(1957) MRCP(1969) FRCPsych(1971) FRCP(1976) Hon FRCPsych(1992)

Philip Connell was a highly influential figure in the British drug policy arena over the crucial period, from the mid-1960s onwards, when drug misuse in the UK began to slide out of control. In his many official roles he advised on every facet of drug policy, writing position papers, memos to ministers and chairing numerous important committees. He was a consultant adviser on drug misuse to the Department of Health, and, for six years, from 1982 to 1988, he chaired the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. For many years he was a prominent figure on WHO expert committees.

Connell entered medicine a little late and did not qualify until the age of 29. He undertook his post-graduate psychiatric training at the Maudsley Hospital, arriving there in 1953, in the days when Aubrey Lewis [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.284] was professor of psychiatry and D L Davies [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.139] the dean of the Institute of Psychiatry. Connell was for a time Davies’s registrar.

During the period of his Maudsley attachment he completed his MD on amphetamine psychosis, later published as a Maudsley Monograph [Oxford University Press, 1958]. This was a heady achievement for a young man and his name was made. However, at that point there were no academic posts available for Connell at the Institute. Instead he went to Newcastle to take a consultant position in child and adolescent psychiatry.

In 1963 he was recruited back to the Maudsley as consultant in charge of the adolescent unit at the Bethlem Royal Hospital, with responsibilities for the Brixton child guidance clinic.

It was then that happenstance took over. Adolescents were at that time misusing amphetamines and other drugs. Suddenly the government badly needed advice on the development of clinics for the treatment of drug use. By virtue of his MD, Connell was an expert in amphetamine misuse and was able to give his advice to government.

In 1968 Connell established an out-patient clinic for heroin users at the Maudsley. For some years the Maudsley and other similar London clinics prescribed heroin generously as the front-line treatment. ‘Six and six’ would mean six grains of heroin and six grains of cocaine as a day’s ration. Connell’s contemporary analyses of the benefits and drawbacks of heroin prescribing today speak to a vanished world, but they offer insights of continuing importance.

At the same time Connell established his in-patient base as the drug dependence clinical research and treatment unit at the Bethlem. The many demands on his time meant that he never personally returned to research, but under his leadership the unit at the Bethlem became an important clinical research centre, particularly so when Michael Gossop was appointed there to a senior research position. John Strang was one of Connell’s registrars and took over the drug consultancy at the Bethlem and Maudsley when Connell retired in 1986.

The list of Connell’s honours and appointments is legion. He was president of the Society for the Study of Addiction, vice-president and honorary fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, chairman of the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence and preliminary screener for health for the GMC. In 1986 he was awarded the CBE.

He was a man of vastly good judgement – he went for practical solutions, avoided extremes and never over-reacted. But besides those qualities of mind there were also qualities of personality which contributed greatly to his success. He was a big man with a big presence who was by nature engaging and courteous. He was also determined, hard-working, ambitious, and also unpretentiously compassionate. Put that intellect together with those personal propensities and the combination was formidable.

Griffith Edwards

[The Independent 11 Aug 1998; The Times 17 Aug 1998; The Daily Telegraph 28 Aug 1998; Brit.med.J., 1998,317,1255]

(Volume XI, page 118)

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