Lives of the fellows

John Anthony Henry

b.11 March 1939 d.8 May 2007
MB BS Lond(1965) MRCP(1974) FRCP(1986) FFAEM(1997)

John Henry, professor of accident and emergency medicine at Imperial College School of Medicine at St Mary’s Hospital, London, was a leading toxicologist. He was born into a Catholic family in south London. His father, John Aloysius Henry, was a general practitioner and team doctor of Millwall Football Club; his mother, Emma Susanna Henry, was a housewife. He was educated at St Joseph’s Academy in Blackheath, and then went on to study medicine at King’s College London.

He was a house physician at King’s, and then became a medical registrar at Whittington and University College hospitals. From 1967, he was a research fellow in clinical pharmacology and nephrology at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, and carried out research on the effects of medicines on kidney function and their clearance from the body. During this period his own kidneys failed. He spent several years on dialysis and had to give up medicine. In 1976 a perfectly matching donor kidney was found and he had a successful transplant.

He returned to medicine as a registrar at Guy’s Hospital and, in 1982, was appointed as a consultant physician to Guy’s and the National Poisons Information Service. In 1997 he moved to St Mary’s Hospital. He retired in 2004, but continued his medico-legal work.

He developed several innovations in the management of poisoning and introduced new antidotes, including the use of alpha acid glycoprotein for drug toxicity, particularly cocaine and tricyclic antidepressants. He also introduced a fatal toxicity index for antidepressants, which changed prescribing practice.

He was often called upon to comment in the media. He correctly deduced that the Ukrainian leader Victor Yushchenko had been poisoned with dioxin, and reassured tabloid readers that they were unlikely to affected by a ricin attack by terrorists on the Underground. He also highlighted the short and long terms effects of ecstasy, cannabis and cocaine use.

He wrote the British Medical Association’s New guide to medicines and drugs (London, Dorling Kindersley, 1994) and, with Glyn Volans, the ABC of poisoning (London, British Medical Association, c.1984).

At the time of his election to the fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians, he listed his interests as ‘walking and talking’. He joined the Catholic organisation Opus Dei at 20 and committed himself to a life of celibacy. From 1968 to 1970, he was director of Netherhall House, an Opus Dei student residence in Hampstead, and returned to live there during the last years of his life. He died after complications following the removal of his transplanted kidney, which had failed.

RCP editor

[The Lancet 2007 370 (9583) 214; BMJ 2007 335 50; The Guardian 20 June 2007; Daily Telegraph 12 May 2007]

(Volume XII, page web)

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