Lives of the fellows

Jean Margaret Wharton

b.17 November 1934 d.18 December 1997
MB BS Lond(1959) MRCS LRCP(1959) DCH(1961) MRCP(1966) FRCP(1979)

Jean Wharton was a consultant physician with an interest in gastro-enterology at Pontefract Infirmary, renowned for her capacity for hard work and for her care of her patients.

She was born at Hindley Green, near Wigan. While her father was in the Customs and Excise Service, her family roots were in farming and there were no connections with the medical profession. Part of her childhood was spent in Pontefract and one of her school buildings later became the district headquarters.

She was educated at Malvern Girls College and at the London Hospital. She qualified in 1959 and held house officer posts at Chelmsford and Bath and a SHO post at the Royal Liverpool Children’s Hospital. She considered a career in neurology but, following an appointment as a registrar at St Mary’s Hospital, she settled on gastro-enterology and completed her training at the West Middlesex and St Mary’s.

In 1973 she was appointed as Pontefract Health District’s first physician with an interest in gastro-enterology. At the start her workload was heavy: there was only one other general physician (with an interest in cardiology), together with a Goole-based physician with only three sessions in Pontefract and a chest physician with no acute responsibilities.

She went on to establish a small purpose-built endoscopy unit and provided a service for both upper and lower gastro-intestinal endoscopy, to a large extent single-handed.

She was an enthusiastic member of the Ridings Gastro-enterology Club and often presented cases which seemed more bizarre than those from other parts of the region: whether this was a feature of Pontefract folk or of her own clinical acumen was never quite clear!

She was widely consulted by members of the hospital staff about their own medical problems. GPs referred to her those patients whom they felt needed a particularly sensitive approach. Once her SHO discharged a rather scruffy elderly man at a pre-Christmas clinic. He had not attended for a year and had no apparent specific pathology. She remonstrated, pointing out that she always admitted this local tramp over the Christmas period!

Jean was devoted to the National Health Service in its original form. The underlying principles on which it was built chimed with her own deep Christian faith. She became progressively unhappy with the changes introduced in the 1980s, particularly the arrangements for transferring chronically sick patients into the community. Her opposition to trust status for the hospital led to her organising a candlelight vigil outside the main entrance. She sadly could not understand the motives of those colleagues who accommodated to the changes. She sought early retirement without success in 1990 and soldiered on unhappily until a fresh application in 1992 was accepted.

Jean was appointed to the magistrates’ bench in 1986 and served in Pontefract until her death. A very practical person, she organised many fund-raising and community events for the Anglican church in Ackworth, including an annual half marathon in which she participated.

Unmarried, she loved animals, including strays, and at her death had a household of three dogs and six cats. She cared for her father until his death at an advanced age and was notably generous to her family. She died at a similar age to her mother and of the same potentially preventable gastro-intestinal condition, colonic carcinoma.

Weland Stone

(Volume XI, page 617)

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