Lives of the fellows

John Robert Hearnshaw

b.14 April 1931 d.18 April 2008
BSc Lond(1955) MB BS(1958) MRCP(1961) FRCP(1976)

John Robert Hearnshaw was a physician with a special interest in diabetes at Leicester Royal Infirmary. Although his work covered all ages, his particular interest was always in the management of childhood diabetes.

Born in Norfolk, he was the son of William Cuthbert Hearnshaw, a farmer. Educated at Culford School, he did his National Service from 1950 to 1951in the Royal Signals unit and then studied medicine at London University and the Middlesex Hospital. After qualifying in 1958, he did house jobs at the Middlesex where he learnt about diabetes as registrar to Sir John Nabarro [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web].

In 1967 he was appointed a consultant physician at Leicester Royal Infirmary and commenced his work in the management of patients with diabetes. Keen to avoid unnecessary hospital admissions, he would aim to visit the family as soon as their GP had phoned him. He felt that this first consultation was crucial and would colour the child’s (and its family’s) attitude to the disorder. He would try to make sure that the child would give themselves their first injection unassisted and he was always there for the family providing them with his home phone number and encouraging them to ring him at any time. One of his patients remarked of him that ‘He seemed to be part of my childhood - always available to help me and my family manage my diabetes’.

He presented the prestigious Alan Nabarro lecture at the meeting of the International Diabetes Federation in Madrid in 1985. Entitled Childhood diabetes in Leicester from 1930 onwards the work followed the outcome of 800 children with diabetes diagnosed under the age of 16 in Leicestershire from 1930 to 1985. The results showed far lower incidence of the usual complications that in other parts of the country and good pregnancy outcomes. It was estimated that he personally treated several hundred children with type 1 diabetes in the course of his career. Ward rounds with him were entertaining and enlightening and he demanded the best from his staff – a typical saying of his was ‘To know diabetes is to know medicine’.

A life member of the British Diabetic Association (now Diabetes UK), he also became president of the Leicester Medical Society. For two years he was seconded to the committee that planned and implemented the creation of the Leicester Medical School. He volunteered, for 20 years, at summer holiday camps for diabetic children, helping them to cope with their problems. For several years he ran free health checks for Church of England clergy in the diocese over the age of 50 and, after retirement, he worked as an expert witness in legal cases concerning diabetes.

He enjoyed fishing and both playing, and listening to, music.

In 1972 he married Hilary Margaret née Welch, whose father, James Norton Welch, was an engineer. They had two daughters. Sadly his last years were spent in a nursing home due to progressive dementia. When he died, he was survived by Hilary, their daughters and two granddaughters.

RCP editor

[BMJ, 2008 337 856]

(Volume XII, page web)

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