Lives of the fellows

Mohan Sankar John Pathy

b.26 April 1923 d.9 April 2009
OBE(1991) MRCS LRCP(1948) MRCP Edin(1956) MRCP(1960) FRCP Edin(1968) FRCP(1973) FRCPS(1997)

John Pathy was responsible for initiating great improvements in the care and medical treatment of older people both in Britain and around the world. He was born in London, the son of Conjeveram Saravana Pathy, who was senior lecturer in Dravidian studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University, and his wife, Agnes, the daughter of William Purchell, a hotel proprietor. He was christened William James John but changed his name by deed poll, while he was a medical student, to Mohan Sankar Narayan – later changing the Narayan back to John.

He studied medicine at London University and King’s College Hospital, qualifying in 1948. While helding a number of short posts in casualty, dermatology and general medicine, he continued his training in infectious diseases. In 1951, he moved to Wales to become medical superintendent at the Llywnypia Hospital in the Rhonda, where he stayed for six years. Working there gave him his first experience of dealing with geriatric patients who had been ‘parked’ in hospital and awakened his interest in improving their care. He then left Wales for brief posts at Amersham and Stoke Mandeville hospitals, before being offered a consultancy at Rugby Hospital in 1960. Both he and his wife preferred the idea of living in Wales, so, instead, he took up the appointment of consultant in geriatric medicine to the Cardiff hospital management group.

During his time there, he began to develop Cardiff as a centre for innovative care for the elderly. His mission was to release older patients from long-stay beds and he did this by using modern methods of treatment and rehabilitation, to ensure that as many as possible were able to return to independent lives in the community. This was at a time when this approach was rare. It was also during his early years in Cardiff that his former studies in infectious disease were put to good use when there was an outbreak of smallpox in 1961. His key role in avoiding a major epidemic was later described in a documentary made by BBC Wales in 2002.

In 1963 he developed the first day hospital in Wales, and the first seven-day-a-week hospital in 1969. He also established the UK’s first night hospital for psychogeriatric patients in 1963. Appointed foundation professor of geriatric medicine at the Welsh National School of Medicine in 1979, he also played a major part in setting up the school of occupational therapy and the school of speech and language therapy in Cardiff. Later, in 1983, he helped develop one of the country’s first memory clinics.

Pathy lectured widely on the care of older people and advised foreign governments on how they could improve the quality of life for their older citizens. His research output included the classic paper on presentation of heart disease in old age ‘Clinical presentation of myocardial infarction in the elderly’ (Brit heart j, 1967, 29, 190) and he contributed widely to his discipline, producing over 130 papers on subjects such as preventive care, stroke and dementia. He edited the standard textbook in the field Principles and practice of geriatric medicine (Chichester, Wiley, 1985). After retiring he continued part-time clinical work at a number of hospitals and was director of health care research at St Woolos Hospital, Newport. For 10 years he was chairman of Age Concern Wales and was on the board of the George Thomas Trust for Hospice Care. He was awarded the OBE in 1991 for services to medicine in Wales

While he was a student at King’s he was secretary of the Tennis Club. A very active man, friends recalled him running everywhere, even up several flights of stairs to his office. He was also an energetic gardener.

In September 1949 he married Norma Mary Gallwey, her father, John, was a company director. They had two sons and three daughters. Norma predeceased him and he was survived by their children and seven grandchildren.

RCP editor

[Daily Telegraph 7 May 2009; Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh obituary Prof M S J Pathy accessed 2 December 2014; Wales Online obituary Prof M S John Pathy - accessed 3 December 2014; Cardiff University staff obituaries - accessed on 3 December 2014]

(Volume XII, page web)

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