Lives of the fellows

Deryck Taverner

b.14 December 1914 d.26 June 1998
MB ChB Leeds(1937) MRCP(1946) MD(1946) FRCP(1956)

Deryck Taverner was a Leeds medical man through and through. Apart from his Army service in the Second World War and research fellowships in Stockholm and Philadelphia, he spent the whole of his professional life at the General Infirmary at Leeds.

Born in Devon and educated at Worcester, he qualified in Leeds in 1937. After three years in junior posts at the Infirmary he joined the RAMC. He was captured at Dunkirk with one of the neurosurgeons at the Infirmary, William Henderson, for whom he had worked before the war. He spent five years in a prisoner of war camp, caring for his comrades under extremely hard conditions. He left the Army as captain and in 1946 was awarded the MBE (military division).

On his return to Leeds he joined the University department of medicine as a tutor and left the department in 1968 as the reader. The professor was Ronald Tunbridge [Munk’s Roll, Vol. VIII, p.513] and the department had beds at the Infirmary, St James’s Hospital, Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield and Dewsbury.

Despite the heavy clinical work load Deryck Taverner developed an interest in electromyography and the peripheral nervous system, a rather neglected area of interest. Some of the animal and clinical work he undertook at this time formed the basis of his MD thesis, which he was granted with distinction in 1946. He published important papers on the treatment of Bell’s palsy and diabetic myelopathy with Hugh Garland [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.191] who thought that the lesion was in the spinal cord due to the presence of increased CSF protein whereas Taverner believed the lesions to be peripheral.

In 1962 he was appointed as a permanent member of a joint planning team, brought together to design, construct and commission a new integrated general hospital, medical school and dental hospital in Leeds. The team members included Geoff Smiddy (a surgeon), Derek Wood (the dean), Miss McCutcheon (a senior nurse) and Building Design Partnership. After three years this small team, having taken evidence and visited widely at home and abroad, produced a comprehensive plan to rebuild the entire hospital on the original site and, in particular, embed the medical school within it. The plan proved too advanced for the Infirmary, the University and the NHS. The ministry ordered a cost cutting exercise and then shelved the whole plan much to the chagrin of the planning team.

Taverner was an excellent opinion on complex clinical problems as he was a neurologist with an excellent knowledge of general medicine, a rare commodity nowadays. He was responsible for introducing changes to the medical curriculum in Leeds, including bringing in multiple choice questions into medical examinations, well in advance of most medical schools and colleges. He advanced the training of nurses and physiotherapists and believed that the teaching of medicine was more appropriate to a college of technology rather than a university.

His wider views on health were published in his monograph The impending medical revolution (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1968). However, when Leeds University wished to acknowledge his many and varied contributions with a personal chair, Hugh Garland organized resistance to this - which tells us more about Garland than the case for Deryck Taverner’s chair.

Deryck Taverner was a private man. He had a clear and logical mind and for the unprepared could be daunting and this extended at times to his colleagues and juniors. He retired from the infirmary in 1980 as senior physician, but continued with a wide private practice and tribunal work. He continued his hobbies of military history and building model sailing ships to scale.

Taverner can be regarded as a founding member of the NHS in Leeds and one of the creators of the modern Leeds School of Medicine, but in essence he was a fine doctor whose primary cause was always his patient’s clinical care.

John Wales

(Volume XI, page 575)

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