Lives of the fellows

Edmund Neville Hey

b.1 April 1934 d.9 December 2009
DPhil Oxon(1960) BM BCh(1962) DCH(1965) DM(1969) MRCP(1971) FRCP(1978)

Edmund Neville Hey (‘Ed’) had an international reputation in neonatal care. His work greatly contributed to the understanding of the physiology of babies, the evidence base for their clinical care and perinatal epidemiology.

Born in Harrow, he was brought up in Tilehurst, near Reading. His father, Max, was a keeper of minerals at the Natural History Museum, whose natural inquisitiveness and attention to detail were both inherited by his only child. A mineralogist, he catalogued the museum's enormous collection of rocks and edited the journal Mineralogy for 24 years. The mineral heyite was named after him.

Hey studied medicine at Magdelen College, Oxford (where his father had been a fellow). For his DPhil thesis he worked on thermoregulation in babies with a Medical Research Council research group at the London Hospital Medical School run by Kenneth Cross [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.107]. Qualifying in 1962, he spent some time working in Newcastle before being appointed a consultant in respiratory paediatrics at Great Ormond Street Hospital. In 1977, he returned to Newcastle as a senior lecturer in child health and consultant in paediatrics at the Princess Mary Maternity Hospital and the Fleming Memorial Hospital for Sick Children.

In Newcastle he was influenced by Gerald Neligan [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.425], one of the first paediatricians to specialise in neonatal care. Hey believed in a non-interventional system of care when others in the field were far more intrusive. Due to the early work he did for his DPhil, he insisted on babies being kept warm when they were born and many lives were no doubt saved through this procedure. Assisting the normal physiological processes of babies, and being responsive to their needs and rhythms, seemed the correct approach to him. Absolutely devoted to ‘his’ newborn babies, his insistence on this system was an occasional source of friction with his colleagues. However, long after his retirement, neonatal care in Newcastle still reflects many of his principles which time has proved were sound.

He was also ahead of his time in recognising the need for regional data collection to evaluate the outcome of maternity care and neonatal services in particular. In 1981 he established the Northern Region Perinatal Mortality Survey and it still continues at www.rmso.org.UK.

Another innovation was his strong support for the introduction of nurse-led care. When there was a local shortage of qualified staff, his colleague Unni Wariyar organised a team of advanced neonatal nurse practitioners and Hey was able to prove demonstrably improved outcomes.

In 1994 he retired, a short time after the two newborn units in Newcastle were amalgamated. He continued active research and wrote (or collaborated on) many excellent papers, always written to meet his own exacting standards. Incensed by what he perceived as persecution by authority, he often worked hard in support of doctors who had been accused of professional misconduct.

A lover of classical music, he played the piano and organ when young but later preferred to listen, particularly to the work of Bach and Mozart. Other favourite pastimes were sailing and ornithology.

He married Sue née Lindsay, a nurse he met while he was at Oxford. She later became a librarian and they carried out research together on William Harvey. Sadly, she developed multiple sclerosis and he nursed her at home for 14 months until she died in 1999.

Moving to a cottage in Yorkshire, he continued to write and research and became a devoted grandfather. He watched very little television and preferred to write long, carefully constructed letters, rather than use the phone. When he died of meningitis, he was survived by his children, Janet, Ian and Carol.

RCP editor

[Lancet 2010 375 276; BMJ 2011 343 4845; The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/society/2010/mar/16/edmund-hey-obituary - accessed 12 March 2015; Newcastle Evening Chronicle www.chroniclelive.co.uk/north-east-news/today’s-evening- chronicle/2009/12/21 - accessed 12 January 2010]

(Volume XII, page web)

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