Lives of the fellows

Neville Christopher Oswald

b.1 August 1910 d.19 April 2006
MRCS LRCP(1934) MB BChir Cantab(1935) MRCP(1935) MD(1946) FRCP(1947)

As a consultant physician at Bart’s and Brompton, Neville Oswald helped establish respiratory medicine in London during the 1950s and 1960s. The son of Christopher Percy and Ida Oswald, he was educated at Clifton College, Queen’s College, Cambridge, and Charing Cross Hospital, qualifying in 1935. After junior jobs in London, where he quickly acquired his membership of the College, he was awarded a Rockerfeller scholarship to spend a year in New York.

A pre-war RAMC Territorial Army medical officer, he returned to England at the start of the Second World War. In 1942 he was posted to Gaza in Palestine, where he was the senior physician at 91st British General Hospital, a 1,200-bedded tented hospital in the desert. Here he experienced for the first time so-called tropical and other infectious diseases, such as plague, typhus, cutaneous diphtheria and smallpox. After the Battle of El Alamein, when the 8th Army departed on its triumphal advance across North Africa, it took half of the tented military hospitals in Egypt and Palestine with it and 91st British General Hospital was soon fully occupied, organising care for thousands of troops and prisoners of war who poured into the area. Many had tuberculosis and this reinforced his interest in chest disease. By late 1944 tuberculosis in non-British troops was such a problem that he was posted to the Canal Zone to take command of the 1,000 bedded ‘mixed hospital’, where the cases were concentrated before being repatriated. It was this experience that provided the clinical material for his MD thesis on ‘Pulmonary tuberculosis in African troops’.

On returning to London he was appointed to the consultant staff of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, the first consultant physician to have qualified elsewhere, and the Brompton Hospital. He obtained his MD in 1946 and was elected a Fellow of the College in 1947.

He ran the East London tuberculosis clinic from Bart’s. At this time classic pulmonary TB was on the decline, but less usual forms were common in his clinic, and his diagnostic acumen and interpretation of chest radiographs were among the best in London. He lectured extensively and was popular with undergraduates and housemen, though he could rarely remember their names.

His research centred on chronic chest disease. He defined chronic bronchitis and taught how to distinguish it from asthma and other chronic lung disease by using clinical questionnaires and control groups. He worked closely with the occupational physicians in the civil service, studying sickness absence records where respiratory disease was the commonest recorded illness. He defined the factors associated with chronic lung disease and tested the growing number of newer antibiotics in the management of long-term lung disease.

His first Lancet paper on chronic bronchitis in 1953, detailing the clinical condition and using the research techniques of a control group and statistical analysis, was a classic of its time and is often quoted. He recognised the danger of antibiotic resistance, particularly in staphylococcus in hospital patients with chronic illness. In October 1955 The Lancet published a joint article with V C Medvei [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.389] ‘Chronic bronchitis, the effect of cigarette-smoking’. This was the first article in medical literature connecting cigarette smoking with cough, sputum and bronchitis.

He rejoined the Territorial Army on its reformation after the war and his final appointment as colonel was commanding 17 General Hospital in Chelsea. He was always extremely proud of his Territorial Army decoration, the TD, of being an honorary physician to the Queen and being a deputy lieutenant of Greater London.

He enjoyed golf, photography, local history and travel. In retirement he continued to research mainly into medical history and continued to produce, and have published, valued papers on many local history subjects until a few months before he died of pneumonia, having suffered for his final year with dementia. He married Marjorie Mary ‘Mollie’ Beattie in 1948 and they had a son and two daughters. There are five grandchildren.

S E Richardson
A R Bailey

[Brit.med.J.,2006,333,400]

(Volume XII, page web)

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