Lives of the fellows

Brian Creamer

b.12 April 1926 d.23 June 2005
MB BS Lond(1948) MRCP(1950) MD(1952) FRCP(1966)

Brian Creamer was dean of St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School and led its amalgamation with Guy’s Hospital Medical School in 1982 to form the United Medical and Dental Schools of Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospitals (UMDS).

After Christ’s Hospital, he entered St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School, qualifying in 1948 with several undergraduate prizes and strong contributions to the students’ Christmas shows. After junior posts at St Thomas’s, he served in the British Army of the Rhine, returning in 1952, when he was briefly a paediatrician, before joining E P Sharpey-Schafer [Munk’s Roll, Vol. V, p.372] as a lecturer on the medical unit. The specialty of gastroenterology was then in its infancy, having been founded by Sir Arthur Hurst [Munk’s Roll, Vol. IV, p.509], physician to Guy’s Hospital, in 1937. As an early recruit to the discipline, Brian launched into studies of oesophageal motility, travelling to the Mayo Clinic to work with Charles Code, from where he published important papers on the normal and abnormal physiology of the gullet. He returned for three years to the medical unit and in 1959 was appointed the first full-time physician and senior lecturer to St Thomas’s Hospital outside the medical unit until his retirement.

He turned his attention to idiopathic steatorrhoea, or coeliac disease, and using elegant histological techniques he showed that in this condition the epithelial cells of the small intestinal muscosa were surprisingly turning over and being shed much faster than normal, leading to loss of villi and a flat mucosa. He later demonstrated increased turnover of gastric epithelial cells in iron deficiency. He gave a masterly account of his work in the Sir Arthur Hurst lecture of the British Society of Gastroenterology at the College in 1968. He remained interested in the small bowel and malabsorption for the rest of his career.

He first built a wooden clinical research laboratory at St Thomas’s, affectionately known as the ‘gut hut’, and later helped design the spacious and modern research institute donated by Lord Max Rayne, into a small part of which the gastrointestinal research laboratory moved in 1976.

Because of his research interests he was able to train a series of young gastroenterologists in clinical research, who then fanned out across the country spreading the new discipline. Although he never took up endoscopy himself, he early encouraged Peter Cotton to do so in the ‘gut hut’, so that early in the 1970s St Thomas’s was renowned for its interest in this rapidly developing technique.

He had examined in the Middle East and from 1977 to 1978 he was visiting professor to the Pahlavi University in Shiraz, where he enjoyed studying Mediterranean small intestinal lymphoma. In 1979 he returned from Iran to become dean of St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School, then a gentlemanly post overseeing the small number of students in a friendly school with a long tradition and high morale: but all was rapidly to change. The London University Working Party, chaired by Lord Flowers, considered in 1980 the closure of small preclinical schools and Brian rose to the challenge, realising that the one way to save his beloved school was to amalgamate with the school at Guy’s Hospital nearby. Working with the Guy’s dean, J C Houston, he persuaded the University to form in 1982 the United Medical and Dental Schools of Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospitals (UMDS), becoming its second dean in 1984, when the Institute of Dermatology was also added. At the time he regretted the amalgamation, but he was correct that it was a necessary and wise step. It was followed in 1994 by the amalgamation of the two hospitals into one trust, and the joining of the UMDS with King’s College Hospital Medical School. While dean of the medical school he raised funds for a new student hostel in the grounds of Lambeth Palace, which is named after him.

He remained, above all, a physician and was a superb communicator of the principles of medicine to generations of students, who eagerly attended his sometimes large ‘grand rounds’. His patients received his unremitting care and were loyal to him; for years he ran a Saturday morning clinic. He drew beautifully and put his skill to use, not only as an hobby, but when writing on the blackboard, drawing simple teaching slides, or sketching his somnolent colleagues during committee meetings. Because of his interest in art, for many years he helped the architect of the new St Thomas’s, Eugene Rosenberg, to choose the extensive and striking collection of modern art that now covers its walls, funded by the hospital’s special trustees. He successfully studied etching, drawing and painting as a hobby.

There were many members of the medical and nursing staff, and their relatives, who consulted him. During the time when two extra holidays were awarded annually to NHS staff, he insisted on coming to work in the medical sorting room of the accident and emergency department, although whether his skills there were fully appreciated is not recorded!

At the Mayo Clinic he underwent an emergency stomach operation for a duodenal ulcer, which today would have been cured by antibiotics, and this left him charmingly susceptible to alcohol and on an unvarying strict diet.

He retired from St Thomas’s in 1991. He was civilian consultant in gastroenterology to the Army, chairman of Trinity Hospice (from 1987 to 1992), founded by Dame Cecily Saunders, almoner of Christ’s Hospital and adviser to the Kay Kendall Leukaemia Fund. He served on the West London District Health Authority (from 1982 to 1983 and 1989 to 1990), the Medway District Authority (1987 to 1989), the South East Thames Regional Health Authority (1982 to 1985) and the University of London Senate (1981 to 1986). He was a fellow of King’s College London.

In 1953 he married Margaret Rees, a St Thomas’s Nightingale, who survives him. They have one daughter and two sons, one of whom is a dermatologist.

Sir Richard Thompson

[The Daily Telegraph 30 August 2005; Brit.med.J.,2005,331,909]

(Volume XII, page web)

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