Lives of the fellows

William Howard Wallace Inman

b.1 August 1929 d.20 October 2005
MA Cantab(1952) BChir(1956) MB(1957) MRCP(1970) FRCP(1981)

Bill Inman was professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the University of Southampton and a pioneer in the development of methods of reporting on the risks of drugs. He was born in Banstead, Surrey, the son of Wallace Mills Inman, chairman of ICI’s alkali division, and Maude Mary Inman née Andrews. He was educated at Ampleforth College, where he played rugby, hunted and ran. He then went to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, to read medicine, but, at the age of 21, shortly after completing his preclinical training, he contracted polio. He was away from his studies for two years, and used a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

In 1952 Inman resumed his training. In those days, Cambridge did not have a clinical medical school but, aware of Inman’s difficulties, the university made an arrangement with Sir Lionel Whitby [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.444], regius professor of physic, for Inman to have individual tuition and training. Inman was therefore the first student to qualify exclusively from Cambridge.

After qualifying, he spent three years as a junior doctor at Addenbrooke’s, holding posts in general medicine, chest diseases, haematology and experimental medicine. In 1959 he joined ICI, where he worked as a medical adviser and researcher. He then joined the Department of Health and Social Security in 1964, as a senior (later principal) medical officer. From 1965 to 1967 Inman designed and directed studies on oral contraceptives and the formation of blood clots. This led to the development of the mini or progesterone-only pill. He also showed that the anaesthetic halothane could, in certain circumstances, cause jaundice, and linked the anti-rheumatic drug phenylbutazone to blood disease.

Following the thalidomide tragedy, the government set up the Committee on the Safety of Drugs, chaired by Sir Derrick Dunlop [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.170]. Dunlop invited Inman to develop an effective system to report on drug reactions, which became known as the Yellow Card Scheme. Under this scheme, which is still operational, doctors and pharmacists are encouraged to use pre-paid yellow cards to report suspected adverse events in their patients.

Later, in the 1970s, Inman became interested in stronger forms of post marketing surveillance of drugs. Finding that his ideas met with official resistance, in 1980 he resigned, to implement his proposals independently. He founded the Drug Safety Research Unit at Southampton and developed the Green Form Scheme. This identifies a large sample of all patients in the UK prescribed a new product and asks GPs to list all the events the patients have experienced since they started taking the drug. Although short of funds, Inman was determined not to rely on sponsorship from the pharmaceutical companies, and managed to raise the necessary finance on his own. In 1984, he became the UK’s first professor of pharmacoepidemiology, at Southampton.

Inman was a consultant for the World Health Organization (WHO) from 1966 to 1980, and, with Barbro Westerholm and Bruce Royal, helped set up the WHO’s own drug-monitoring programme. In 1999 he published Don’t tell the patient: behind the drug safety net (Los Angeles, Bishops Waltham, Hants, Highland Park Productions), in which he argued for the complete independence of drug monitoring, away from the influence of government or industry.

He retired in 1994 and became the medical vice-president of Remap, a charity that supplies free, customised equipment to disabled people. Outside medicine, he loved a good party, became a glider pilot in the 1950s (and won a prize for the best pupil in his year), enjoyed fly-fishing and gardening, and in his later years returned to wildfowling.

In 1962 he married June Evelyn Maggs. They had four daughters, one of whom died in infancy. In the last few years of his life he developed post-polio syndrome. His wife and three daughters (Stella, Rosemary and Charlotte) survived him.

RCP editor

[The Daily Telegraph 28 October 2005; The Guardian 4 November 2005; Brit.med.J., 2005 331 1477; The Lancet, Volume 366, Issue 9500, Page 1844, 26 November 2005]

(Volume XII, page web)

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