Lives of the fellows

Donald Longson

b.25 February 1923 d.30 September 2002
MB ChB Manch(1946) MRCP(1948) FRCP(1965) MD(1990)

Donald Longson was a gentle man, full of humour, with a dislike of the formal or pompous. His broad view of medicine, his skill as a medical teacher and his wisdom meant that his teaching sessions were much sought after by students. There was much competition over his junior staff posts. He was loved by his patients, to such an extent that they organized a separate retirement party for him, some returning from overseas for the event. This was an unusual and remarkable recognition of his efforts on their behalf.

Born of an English father and a French-speaking Belgian mother, Donald was bilingual. Indeed, his early education was at the de la Salle College in Brussels, eventually terminated by the German invasion at the start of the Second World War. He entered the University of Manchester Medical School, where he gained his MB ChB degree (with honours) in 1946. He was awarded distinctions in medicine and forensic medicine, and won the Turner medical prize, the clinical medical prize, and the Stephen Lewis prize.

His first posts were as house physician in medicine and cardiology, then as resident clinical pathologist, and lastly as resident medical officer at Manchester Royal Infirmary between 1946 and 1951. During this time he met his wife Joan who was resident at the Royal Infirmary having qualified in 1948. They were married in 1950.

For two years Donald then moved to Manchester University as demonstrator in physiology during 1951 and 1952, before returning to Manchester Royal Infirmary as senior registrar in medicine in 1952. He spent two years from 1954 to 1956 at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York on the Dickenson and Schering travelling fellowships. He was appointed in 1959 as consultant physician with a special interest in endocrinology to the Manchester Royal Infirmary, to St Mary's Hospitals for Women and Children, to the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital and to Booth Hall Children's Hospital. He also held an honorary lectureship in clinical endocrinology at the University of Manchester.

His principal research interest at this time was in adrenocortical function, its control and its pathology. In New York he was involved in studies of the effect of Chlorpromazine on the adrenocortical response to insulin hypoglycaemia. In Manchester his work with the paediatrician George Komrower [Munk's Roll, Vol.IX, p.297] on the control of congenital adrenal hyperplasia with Prednisone had been among the earliest in the field.

During his first years as a consultant, he began to develop his ideas for an investigation unit. In his own special field of endocrinology, investigations have often to be planned in a particular sequence, especially where one test may interfere with the results of another. He felt that admitting patients before planning and booking investigations wasted much time, leaving the patient occupying a bed unnecessarily. He designed a system by which complex investigations could be booked in advance of the admission, leading to improved use of beds and investigation services. It also became clear that this process could be applied to almost any specialty, and as a result, after much negotiation and persuasion, the programmed investigation unit was opened at Manchester Royal Infirmary. This resulted in such improvement in bed usage, and had such an impact on waiting lists that the Department of Health became very interested. As a result Donald and his nursing and administrative team spent the next ten years giving seminars and workshops across the country, and conducting visiting parties of interested consultants, nurses and administrators around the unit. As a result, similar units of varying size and pattern to suit local requirements have spread widely throughout the United Kingdom.

After serving a term as chairman of the division of medicine, Donald was appointed as dean of clinical studies in the faculty of medicine from 1969 to 1980. In the years he held this post he made several major contributions, perhaps the greatest of which was to oversee the setting up of the student clinical residence scheme involving many hospitals across the whole of the north west. This involved personal visits to all hospitals offering or considering attachments to advise on teaching programmes, residential accommodation, etc. In another role as dean, his skills as adviser and counsellor to clinical students needing help or support were much sought after and many remember his assistance with gratitude.

Despite his other duties, he maintained a full contribution to the student teaching, both at the bedside and in the seminar. His weekly sessions on the skills of clinical examination were fully booked several weeks in advance, and so popular that he continued the regular sessions long after his retirement.

Following his retirement he served as a sub-dean of postgraduate studies, with a particular interest in reviewing the provisions for the pre-registration year. In 1990, in recognition of his contribution over the years, the University of Manchester awarded him the degree of MD (hon causa).

Over the years Donald served on committees at the College, and was later an elected member of the GMC. For many years he was first a medical member and later a medical chairman to the (War) Pensions Appeal Tribunals for the Lord Chancellor's Department

His favourite relaxations were his garden and his reading. His command of languages was such that he found relaxation in reading dictionaries, in French or English. He taught himself Latin. However, he always insisted that the best way to relax after a hard day was in his greenhouse, pricking out and replanting young seedlings. In the hospital he ran a 'rescue service' for undernourished and over-watered pot plants he found languishing in wards or secretarial offices.

His prop and support throughout was his charming wife Joan, his daughter and two sons, and his grandchildren. As his health began to fail over his latter years, he showed great fortitude, but his humour remained undimmed and he always had a joke or a funny story to relate. He was an exceptional man, an exceptional doctor, teacher, colleague and friend.

Derek Davies

(Volume XI, page 344)

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