Lives of the fellows

Jane Margery Wynne

b.8 December 1944 d.18 June 2009
MB ChB Leeds(1969) MRCP(1973) FRCP(1991)

Jane Margery Wynne was a consultant community paediatrician in Leeds and an internationally recognised authority on child abuse. It was said of her that ‘the work she did in promoting child protection and alerting people to unpleasant truth will live on’.

Born in Leicester, she was the elder daughter of John, a university lecturer in agricultural economics, and his wife, Margaret, who was a head teacher. The family had strong left wing views and her parents instilled in her a sense of justice and firm principles of social responsibility. In the 1950s her father moved to a job at Leeds University and she continued her education at Lawnswood School. She studied medicine at Leeds University and St James’s Hospital. Qualifying in 1969, she did house jobs in adult medicine at St James’s from 1972 to 1973, and, choosing to specialise in paediatrics, was appointed a paediatric registrar in Nottingham in 1975 and senior registrar at King’s College London and the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Sick Children in Brighton the following year.

In 1976 she married a neurologist, Simon Currie, and moved to Leeds to join him on obtaining a post as a lecturer in community child health at Leeds University. There she ran clinics for disabled children and joined Michael Buchanan who was a pioneer in the field of child abuse. She was appointed one of the new breed of community paediatricians in 1984 at the Leeds General Infirmary (LGI). Two years later, she was covering the whole of Leeds and running courses on child abuse at St James’s University Hospital with her colleague, Christopher Hobbs. In 1986 and 1987, they published two important papers ‘Buggery in childhood: a common syndrome of child abuse’ (Lancet, 1986, 2, 792-6) and ‘Diagnosing sexual abuse’ (Lancet, 1987, 2, 1455) stressing the need for a multidisciplinary approach to the problem of child sexual abuse.

Unfortunately the multidisciplinary approach they advocated was not followed in 1987 in Cleveland, when 96 out of 121 cases of child abuse diagnosed by two Middlesbrough paediatricians were thrown out of court. One of the paediatricians involved had attended the Leeds course and Wynne and Hobbs were therefore held partly responsible. At the LGI the consultant body was unsupportive and she was portrayed as ‘that bloody Wynne woman’ and ‘a witch from Salem’. However, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the judge who chaired the enquiry, supported the methods advocated by Wynne and Hobbs and her report, plus the outcome of a successful libel case, allowed them to continue with their work.

In 1988 they established the Child Protection Special Interest Group, later a subgroup of the British Association of Community Child Health. They also worked with the British Association for Child Abuse and Neglect. Many paediatricians at the time were steering clear of child abuse work but the courses flourished with many attendants coming from further afield than the UK. In 1996 they published Physical signs of child abuse: a colour atlas (London, Saunders, 1996) and it was very successful. Later, with Helga Hanks, a clinical psychologist, they published their experiences, in Child abuse and neglect: a clinician’s handbook (London, Churchill Livingstone, 1999). Following that, they produced Physical signs of child abuse (London, Saunders, 2001) to much international acclaim.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health finally accepted the need for all paediatricians to receive training on child abuse and awarded her an honorary fellowship. She also received an honorary doctorate from Leeds Metropolitan University in 1994 for her work and honorary membership of the council of the NSPCC. As the importance of her work came to be recognised, many people expressed their appreciation of the humour and good sense with which she handled the often controversial issues in her professional life. It was said of her that she ‘had steely purpose, public good humour when reviled, but above all a commitment to the welfare of the vulnerable’.

In 1990 she was diagnosed as having Parkinson’s disease and she retired nine years later. She continued to teach, however, until 2003, when she underwent open heart surgery as the drugs had damaged her heart valves. A gifted sportswoman in her youth the inevitable loss of mobility hit her hard, but she managed, despite failing visual and manual skills, and various falls, to continue some walking in the Yorkshire Wolds. When she died from multisystem failure, her husband survived her, together with their daughter Rosamund, son Martin and sister, Ruth.

RCP editor

[BMJ 2009 339 695; The Guardian www.theguardian.com/society/2009/aug/19/obituary-jane-wynne – accessed 24 February 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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