Lives of the fellows

Philip Harvey

b.1 March 1916 d.6 January 2005
MRCS LRCP(1940) MB BS Lond(1941) MRCP(1943) MD(1946) FRCP(1975)

Philip Harvey was a consultant physician at St Stephen’s Hospital, London. Born the son of Russian immigrant parents, he was educated in the East End of London between the two world wars. His personal and political philosophies were moulded in that time by the rise of fascism, the Russian revolution, Moseley’s anti-semitism, and the poverty of his family. He was a gifted student, a prize and scholarship winner at his school, but he only succeeded in entering Guy’s Hospital at his second attempt (he said), when he had changed the family name, borrowed a friend’s address in the West End of London, and done an extra year at school, again in the West End.

After qualification he was not called up, possibly because of illness, and he spent the rest of the Second World War working in Swindon and in St James’s Hospital, Balham. Shortly after the end of the Second World War he joined the staff of St Stephen’s Hospital in the Fulham Road, as an assistant physician, and with the inception of the National Health Service was appointed consultant there. He remained at St Stephen’s for the rest of his working life, retiring at the age of 65. He was full-time, and he passionately believed in the founding principles and precepts of the National Health Service, railing with increasing bitterness at the erosion of those principles through what he saw as the evil of private practice, and, presciently, the increasing interference in clinical matters by an increasingly incompetent and ill-educated administration.

He was a first class physician. He read widely and deeply. He provided a very broad-based medical service to the inhabitants of Chelsea, Kensington and Fulham, and attracted a large and loyal following from the very mixed strata of society living there. He associated smoking with cancer of the lung well before Richard Doll [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web] and, once he had given up smoking himself, enthusiastically berated his patients for smoking.

He was a gifted teacher. His membership courses were always over-subscribed, and his junior staff invariably speak of him with great affection. He encouraged them to pursue careers that he predicted would suit them, often to their surprise. I remember well one registrar determined to do cardiology, but was persuaded by my father into dermatology. The registrar went on to become a very eminent academic dermatologist. There are many professors in the UK at the moment who trained under my father, and although neurology was never his strongest point, there are at least six eminent neurologists of the last few decades who learnt their general medicine with him.

He had an explosive temper, and was utterly intolerant of fools, who were very simply defined as anybody who disagreed with him. He was forever breaking the golden rule of not making a friend of a patient or a patient of a friend, which led to many hours of unhappiness in the end. His only close friends were those who shared his political beliefs, and he actually found it impossible to maintain close personal relationships with those of other political persuasions. He was a member of the British Communist Party for many years. He rationalised the Russian invasion of Hungary, Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin, and it was only after a visit to East Germany, and the realisation of the corruption of the regime, that he resigned from the Communist Party and became an uncomfortable member of the Labour Party. However, his beliefs and passions never really deserted him.

He visited North Vietnam and Cuba on several occasions, and East Germany. There may still yet be a Philip Harvey medical library in the University of Hanoi, because he was forever sending old books and literature there.

He was a sprinter in his youth, running for London University. He developed an interest in European travel, music, opera, and the theatre, but his main passion was politics, which was explored, with him as the principal speaker, by a group of like-minded friends every Sunday morning, while devouring chocolate biscuits and oesophagus-scouring coffee.

He died of cardiac failure aged 89. He is survived by his wife, Leah, a retired barrister – a marriage of 65 years standing. They had two sons: one (Peter) a neurologist, and the other, a retired clinical chemist in Holland.

Peter Harvey

(Volume XII, page web)

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