Lives of the fellows

Leslie Andrew Wilson

b.15 June 1917 d.5 April 1999
MA Aberd(1937) MB ChB(1941) MRCP(1948) MD(1954) MRCP Edin(1962) FRCP(1970) FRCP Edin(1971)

Leslie Andrew Wilson was a consultant in geriatric medicine in Aberdeen. He was born into a family of farmers in the village of Tarves, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and was educated at Robert Gordon's College, Aberdeen. He went on to study medicine at the University of Aberdeen. From 1941 to 1942 he was house surgeon and physician at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. He spent the next three and a half years in overseas service in the RAMC with field units in Nigeria, India and the Middle East, achieving the rank of major.

He gained his membership of the College in 1948 when he was medical registrar at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, and from 1950 to 1955 was senior registrar in general medicine to Aberdeen General Hospitals. His interest at that time was endocrinology. In 1954 he was awarded an MD degree with honours by Aberdeen University. The following year he was appointed consultant physician to the Aberdeen General Hospitals and consultant in administrative charge of the geriatric service to the north eastern region of Scotland, an area of some 3000 square miles. Until 1967 the post also included acting as visiting general physician to the islands of Orkney and Shetland. In 1963 he passed his membership examination to the Edinburgh College, and was appointed clinical senior lecturer in geriatric medicine by the University of Aberdeen.

He was an active member of the British Geriatrics Society, and between 1960 and 1973 served on both its executive committee and council. He was chairman of the Scottish branch from 1965 to 1967. In 1997 he was one of three Scottish recipients of the 50th anniversary medal of the British Geriatrics Society.

Leslie Wilson established geriatric medicine in the north east of Scotland on a firm footing, but this was not done without difficulty. Two years prior to his appointment Aberdeen geriatric services had been run by two distinguished general physicians who had recently retired. Their role was mainly to remove elderly patients from acute wards to two long stay hospitals, one of which had been a voluntary hospital for the chronic sick, with a good local reputation, the other an Edwardian poorhouse with a poorhouse reputation. Patients were admitted in order of referral.

Leslie Wilson made changes which generated criticism from the local medical establishment. He started to admit a significant number of patients from home, all of whom were visited first to establish clinical and social need and therapeutic potential. He considered priority for admission to be dependent on clinical need, rather than other factors. And as the poorhouse was on a general hospital site and had the necessary investigative and treatment facilities, he used this as his admission unit rather than the voluntary hospital which, although socially more acceptable, lacked diagnostic and therapeutic facilities. Over the next few years as wards were cleared of continuing care patients, many were converted to assessment wards for diagnosis, medical management, rehabilitation and resettlement of ill and frail elderly patients.

Throughout his career Leslie Wilson was an advocate of the traditional model of geriatric service, with consultants having their own wards separate from general medicine and managing their own patients from pre-admission assessment visit to discharge or death.

In addition to the elderly Leslie Wilson had a lifelong interest in the management of younger disabled people, particularly those suffering from multiple sclerosis. He was a founder member of Aberdeen branch of the Multiple Sclerosis Society in 1958.

It is ironic that only after his retirement did many of the developments he had fought for over the years came to fruition, including a purpose-built specialist unit for the young disabled, geriatric beds in the main teaching hospital and a university chair in geriatric medicine.

In addition to developing an effective clinical service, Leslie Wilson was committed to undergraduate teaching and training of junior doctors in the clinical management of elderly people. Although there was no academic department until after his retirement, all Aberdeen medical students passed through the department of geriatric medicine, and the teaching programme was extensive.

For much of his career he was a member of the selection committee for general practice trainees, many of whom served as SHOs in the department. The Aberdeen geriatric service was unusual in being accepted as appropriate training for pre-registration house officers. In addition SHOs on the general medical rotation spent time in the department. At the time of his retirement there were few locally trained general practitioners and general physicians who were not familiar with the principles of geriatric medicine, and there were few major geriatric services in Scotland without someone trained by Leslie Wilson. Many of his trainees went abroad, and close links were established with other services, particularly in Australia. He himself took advantage of world-wide links and widely travelled as a lecturer in Europe, Australasia, Japan and America.

He published papers on physical and mental disorders of the elderly, the organization of hospital geriatric services and on medical records. He was a pioneer of objective mental scoring systems for cognitive impairment in the elderly, was a proponent of home visiting, and conducted original research into the management of spasticity.

In 1947 Leslie Wilson married Helen Marshall Rintoul. They had two sons and one daughter.

C J Scott

[Proceedings of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, 1999,29,270-272; Brit.med.J., 318,1999,1627]

(Volume XI, page 627)

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