Lives of the fellows

Olive Scott

b.25 June 1924 d.4 March 2007
MB ChB Sheffield(1948) MRCS LRCP(1948) DCH(1952) MRCP(1955) MD(1957) FRCP(1972)

Olive Scott was the first consultant in the United Kingdom to be appointed as a full-time paediatric cardiologist. Prior to her appointment at Killingbeck Hospital, Leeds, in 1966 children with heart problems were cared for by general paediatricians or adult cardiologists with an ‘interest’, accepting that at the time relatively little effective treatment was available for many of the more complex defects. The appointment of Olive Scott was therefore a significant landmark in the development of paediatric cardiology as an independent specialty in the UK and the period of her consultancy saw a transformation in the outcomes for both medical and surgical treatment for these children.

Born Olive Sharpe, she was educated at Carlisle County High School and then Sheffield University Medical School. She subsequently became a junior doctor in Liverpool, working in the department of John Hay [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.258], where she developed an interest in heart disease in children.

She trained in paediatric cardiology at a time when clinical skills were paramount. Throughout her career she retained the ability to surprise junior colleagues with the accuracy of her deductions made on the basis of her own direct observation of the patient. She was skilled in the challenging technique of infant cardiac catheterisation and was one of the first to bring the newly-developed technique of balloon atrial septostomy for transposition of the great arteries to the UK. At a relatively early stage in her consultant career Olive recognised the potential importance for accurate non-invasive diagnosis using ultrasound. With like-minded colleagues she enlisted the support of the Yorkshire branch of the Variety Club of Great Britain and saw to completion a plan to open the first dedicated non-invasive cardiac diagnostic unit in the UK at Killingbeck Hospital in 1976.

Many years before the computerised database became a reality, Olive recognised the importance of good record keeping, data collection and retrieval. For many years she personally entered important information related to her patients on cards with index holes punched around the perimeter. Information on patients with any particular abnormality could then be retrieved by passing knitting needles through the holes. The system was a great boon to her academic productivity and with typical generosity was always made available to her colleagues. She published widely on matters ranging from clinical cardiology to the morphology and classification of congenital heart disease. Her more important contributions were to our understanding of the variations in normal heart rhythm in young children and her work with her husband James, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology in Leeds, reporting for the first time the causative association of maternal lupus auto-antibodies and congenital heart block. The textbook of paediatric cardiology which she co-authored with Stephen Jordan of Bristol (Heart disease in paediatrics London, Butterworths, 1973) was notable for its clarity and concise content and was a popular standard text for both paediatricians and cardiologists for many years.

Communication with parents and the provision of support for the families of her patients was always an important priority. With the help of the British Heart Foundation, she produced leaflets about congenital heart disease and specific cardiac defects, which gave pictorial and written information easily understandable to the lay person. She was an early advocate of the concept of providing parental accommodation within the hospital grounds and personally ensured that this aspect of care was central to the development of the paediatric cardiac unit at Killingbeck (a hospital she loved, but whose unfortunate name she tried hard, but unsuccessfully, to change).

Olive was an enthusiastic traveller and a keen supporter of the Association for European Paediatric Cardiology. Many European doctors visited Leeds and benefited from her teaching and by her ability to communicate with perfect English diction. (Olive was proud to be a licentiate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.) She was quick to recognise potential in trainees and many, inspired by her enthusiasm and commitment, went on to distinguished careers in paediatric cardiology, both in the UK and the wider world.

Although she was a vigorous advocate for paediatric cardiology, particularly in support of the unit in Leeds, and could express her views firmly, she remained the perfect lady, never rude, and always evenly tempered (unauthorised use of knitting needles excepted). Casual acquaintances might have thought her a serious personality, but close colleagues and friends will remember her delightful sense of humour.

Olive was able to combine the onerous responsibilities of providing on call care for paediatric cardiology with the demanding requirements of bringing up her two sons. She was an excellent cook and she and James were memorable hosts. In retirement she and James remained very active and were able to maintain their interest in travelling, their support for Opera North in Leeds and enjoy the benefits of their second home in the north west highlands of Scotland.

David Dickinson
John Gibbs

[The Lancet 2007,369,2072; The Times 16 April 2007; The Guardian 4 June 2007]

(Volume XII, page web)

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