Lives of the fellows

Nishith Kumar Banerji

b.11 July 1935 d.17 June 2003
MB BS King George’s, Lucknow(1958) MD(1962) PhD Queen’s(1970) MRCP(1975) FRCP(1993)

Nishith Banerji was a consultant neurologist at Taunton, Somerset. He was born at Saharanpur in India, the son of Tilottama and Santimoy Banerji, a headmaster. We do not know the time of his birth, but ‘Nishith’ translates as ‘midnight’. Nishith went to school at Queen’s College, Banaras.

In 1958, at the age of 23 years, Nishith qualified MB BS at King George’s Medical College and Gandhi Memorial Hospital, Lucknow, where he was captain of the college hockey team and played in the top league in the football club. He was table tennis champion in the inter-hostel championships. After qualifying he undertook his first jobs in the department of medicine. He held posts as house physicians, honorary medical officer in neuropsychiatry, senior resident in medicine and was then a research fellow in medicine. Four years after qualifying, he wrote his MD thesis on ‘Some observations on paraplegia’, a topic he was to revisit four years later.

In 1962 Nishith went to England to train in neurology. Psychiatry and neurosurgery are good training grounds for clinical neurology and his first two jobs encompassed both specialties. He worked first as a registrar in psychiatry at Bury in Lancashire and then went to Newcastle-upon-Tyne as a senior house officer in neurosurgery.

Nishith then started his neurological training in earnest. In 1964 he became a senior house officer in neurology at Walton Hospital in Liverpool. He then returned to Newcastle to work as senior house officer in neurology at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, where he was taught by Henry Miller [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.396], later to become dean and then vice-chancellor of the university, and John Walton, later to sit in the House of Lords.

Next Nishith moved to the regional paraplegic centre at Southport, where he worked as locum registrar from March to July 1966. It was in Southport that he met a young radiographer, Margaret, who was in fact the senior radiographer at the Royal Hospital. Nishith left Southport for Belfast, where he took up the post of registrar in neurology at the Royal Victoria Hospital. The airfares from Southport to Belfast and back became a bit steep, so there was only one thing for it: Margaret moved to Belfast.

In Belfast Nishith engaged in research once again, becoming a research fellow. For his work on paraplegia he was awarded a PhD from Queen’s University. At the beginning of 1969 Nishith returned to his post as a registrar in neurology. He and Margaret were married in her hometown, Burscough near Southport in Lancashire, on 17 May 1969. With the strong support of his new wife, Nishith continued in Belfast in his registrar post until 31 July 1971 and the next day took up the post of senior registrar, in order to complete his neurological training.

In 1969 he published on diabetic neuropathy. In 1971 he wrote in the Ulster Medical Journal on ‘Acute polyneuritis craniales with total external ophthalmoplegia and areflexia’. Other papers followed in that year, exploring particularly the relationship of disorders of the nervous system to diseases of the gut. He wrote on diabetic neuropathy and, especially notably for Margaret, in 1971 ‘Paraplegia associated with cystinuria’, since she recalls visits to the houses of patients in order to obtain urine samples and the difficulty in obtaining specimens from the not altogether friendly members of the family. In 1972 he published ‘Guillain-Barre syndrome in children, with special reference to serial nerve conduction studies’ and ‘Basilar impression of the skull in patients with adult coeliac disease and after gastric surgery’ and in 1974 ‘Chiari malformation presenting in adult life – its relationship to syringomyelia’.

It was from this job with Harold Millar [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.362] at the Royal Victoria Hospital that Nishith travelled to Taunton to take up the post of the first clinical neurologist in January 1976. Alfred Morris House was already open as a young physically handicapped unit and he took on the running and development of this unit. During the ensuing 25 years he devoted himself to the establishment of a neurology service with increasing demands, until his retirement at the end of June 2001, just a few days before his 65th birthday. Neurology was already practised to a high standard within the field of general medicine, but the arrival of a physician whose work was devoted solely to neurology initiated the establishment of a fuller specialist neurology service.

Nishith was fussy to maintain the high quality of his work. He saw the patient as a whole person and not just as a vehicle for disease, his view formed strongly in the light of the teaching of Henry Miller in Newcastle and Harold Millar in Belfast. For many years he was the only full-time neurologist in the whole of Somerset and undertook clinics in Taunton, Yeovil and Bridgwater, and he attended the weekly meeting in Bristol to confer there with neuroscience colleagues. In the early part of Nishith’s job travelling around the region was especially difficult since, although traffic generally was less, the road system was not well developed. In later years be published on Parkinsonism and multiple sclerosis.

Nishith was a family man. He was proud of his daughters and the extensive daytime work meant that after his children had gone to bed it was necessary for him to undertake paperwork at home until ten or 11 at night. Nishith and Margaret’s older daughter, Susheela, followed his example and started her medical career in Dundee and their younger daughter, Anita, worked in audiological medicine in Manchester.

Nishith believed that neurology usually should be centred in the district general hospital and related closely to rehabilitation services. Colleagues who worked closely with him have explained how Nishith was a full member of the medical and non-medical teams and how he played his part, always helpful though busy, prompt and with good humour. He took seriously the duties of teaching and of presenting at the grand rounds and at other clinical meetings. His fellow neurologists asked him to run their neurology audit meetings for several years and they elected him president of the South West of England Neurosciences Association. It is noteworthy that following his retirement he was succeeded by two and, soon thereafter, by three full-time neurologists and one part-time neurologist.

He recognised there was life outside medicine following his retirement at the age of 65, and he demonstrated that it is possible to do things after retirement, though sadly not for long enough. He started the day with breakfast in the bay window of the sitting room, to the sound of classical music broadcast to the neighbourhood. He played golf. He painted and he sculpted and undertook several courses at the Somerset College for Arts and Technology. Margaret worked in the Taunton Opportunity Group to provide services for handicapped children and she listened to Nishith deliver drafts of his scientific papers.

Colleagues have explained that they never saw Nishith angry or resort to personal insult, never heard him say a bad thing about anybody, and that he was a quiet dignified gentleman, well loved by all as a jobbing neurologist. He enjoyed his retirement, cut short by a dissecting aneurysm of the thoracic aorta on 17 June 2003.

Christopher Gardner-Thorpe

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List