Lives of the fellows

Peter Alwyn-Smith

b.14 November 1916 d.31 July 2002
KStJ MRCS LRCP(1942) MB BS Lond(1946) FFCM(1972) MRCP(1972) FRCP(1977) FFPHM RCP(1990)

An acknowledged expert in hospital design and planning, Peter Alwyn-Smith was one of the leaders of Welsh medicine and of health services in the Principality in the second half of the last century.

He qualified in medicine at St Mary's Medical School, in 1942, and then joined the EMS. After a number of clinical and administrative posts in the London area, he joined the Welsh Regional Hospital Board in 1949 as a medical officer. In 1951, he, together with an architect and a deputy dean from a London Dental School, worked on schedules of accommodation for a new teaching hospital on a green field site in Cardiff, the first in Britain to be fully integrated with a new medical and dental school. Originally designed for 600 beds but on a site of 53 acres to allow expansion to 800 or more beds, the University Hospital of Wales is one of the monuments to his memory.

From 1959 until the NHS reforms in 1974 he was a senior administrative medical officer at the Welsh Regional Hospital Board. With the support of two assistants, he worked on a master plan for hospital services in Wales. Published in 1961, the document surveyed the progress made in the first decade of the NHS since its foundation and set out a series of planning principles which were to be used subsequently to define the proposed pattern of hospital development area by area throughout Wales. This 'master plan' is regarded as the forerunner of the UK Government's Command Paper No. 1604, 'A Hospital Plan for England and Wales' of 1962. The plans for Wales were drawn up for a 20 year programme, not ten years as for the English regions. It envisaged 11 new district general hospitals and a new teaching hospital. Whilst good progress was made in the implementation of the plan, it took longer than was hoped, but is now fully in place, with an additional three district general hospitals and a number of new community/special hospitals as well.

In 1974, he became principal medical officer at the Welsh Office, with responsibility for strategic planning of the NHS in Wales, including the capital building programme, medical manpower issues, health information, service planning of regional and subregional specialties. He retired in 1981.

Soon after his formal retirement, he was recalled by the Secretary of State for Wales for a new task. At this time the health departments were creating a revised structure within the NHS to investigate complaints against hospital doctors. In England this function became the responsibility of regional medical officers, but this was not an option available to Wales and it was considered inappropriate for it to be given to the chief medical officer at the Welsh Office. The Secretary of State decided to create the post of 'medical officer for complaints' and Peter Alwyn-Smith was the first holder of the post, from 1981 to 1986. He, single-handedly in the first instance, developed the modus operandi, designed the standard documentation necessary, etc. Later, he was joined by a second appointee and together they established a high level of competence which has been maintained by successors in the title.

Peter Alwyn-Smith dedicated his life to the health and welfare of others. He was renowned for working long hours even in his advanced years. Strong in his Christian beliefs, he took care to progress the careers of his juniors. He was readily identified in traffic, sporting a traditional British soft top sports car.

Gareth Crompton

(Volume XI, page 12)

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