b.7 March 1927 d.9 July 2010
BA Oxon(1949) BM BCh(1951) MRCP(1958) DM(1966) FRCP(1977)
Klaus Schiller was a pioneer in the field of flexible gastrointestinal endoscopy in Britain and was amongst the first to introduce the then new technique to a district general hospital (St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey) in 1967. He was born in Vienna, Austria, the son of Walter, a gynaecologist, and Berta. He came to England in 1938 with his sister Verena. They were soon followed by their parents and grandparents. He was educated at Clifton College, Bristol, from where he won an exhibition in 1945 to study medicine at the Queen’s College, Oxford. His clinical training was at the London Hospital, to which he won a scholarship in 1948, qualifying in 1951.
After junior hospital jobs at the London, St Stephen’s, London Chest Hospital, Fulham, and a period spent on National Service in the Royal Air Force, he was appointed as a senior registrar at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, in 1962. Initially his interests were in endocrinology, publishing on thyroid disease and its association with pernicious anaemia. In 1966, he was awarded an MD for a thesis entitled ‘Hyperthyroidism and pernicious anaemia – a study of 300 patients treated with radio-iodine’. He spent a year (from 1965 and 1966) as a clinical and research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.
On returning to Oxford, he joined Sidney Truelove [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.582], who became a lifelong friend and mentor. He then undertook research into acute bleeding from the gut, resulting in a landmark paper, ‘Haematemesis and melaena, with special reference to factors influencing the outcome’ (Br Med J, 1970 Apr 4;2:7-14). This has been widely cited since, being regarded as a benchmark contribution to gastroenterology. It was also during this time that his interest in flexible endoscopy was kindled as the Radcliffe department acquired an instrument allowing not only visualisation of the stomach but also the taking of biopsies.
In 1967, he was appointed as a consultant physician to St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey, where from humble beginnings he built up a fine modern well-staffed and equipped endoscopy unit. After setting up the service in an out-patients’ cubicle, he was quick to realise that, with new developments and increasing numbers of patients, adequate provision within the wider NHS was essential for the advancement of this powerful tool. Klaus shared this view with other ‘young Turks’ and he organised a seminal meeting at St Peter’s, which was to be the inspiration for the foundation of the British Society for Digestive Endoscopy (BSDE) in 1971. He was the founder honorary secretary and driving force behind the new society, which challenged the established British Society of Gastroenterology (BSG), which had a strictly limited membership. By contrast, the BSDE was open and welcoming to all interested in the field of gastrointestinal endoscopy. It was firmly committed to education and training, and in the development of clinical services. The two societies rubbed along uncomfortably in the early years, but by 1980, following a joint working party, the BSG and the BSDE merged with a membership policy open to all with a career interest in gastroenterology. In the merged society, the leader of the endoscopy section was to become vice-president (endoscopy) – and Klaus held this position from 1983 to 1985.
However, his energies were not restricted to gastroenterology and slowly, with his colleagues, he built a vibrant and forward-looking department of medicine, focusing on increasing specialised care. He could be a quite imposing figure, expecting the highest standards of everyone in the hospital, and would make sure that one was aware if these were not being achieved. Provided that his colleagues and juniors showed a similar commitment to these values, they could rely on his valuable support and excellent guidance. He was a fine diagnostician and, overall, cared about the welfare and treatment of his patients above everything else, many having cause to be extremely grateful.
He was very active in the running of the hospital, constantly campaigning for improved facilities and services, often resulting in some discomfiture for management in the process. He served on many regional committees and was for some time a member of the district management committee, and chairman of the consultants committee.
Besides routine clinical activities and involvement with the BSDE and BSG, he wrote many scientific and other articles. He contributed chapters to books and in 1986 was lead editor of A colour atlas of gastrointestinal endoscopy (London, Chapman and Hall), which was followed in 2002 by an expanded second edition, Atlas of gastrointestinal endoscopy and related pathology (Oxford, Blackwell Science). Between 1994 and 1997 he established and edited a novel medical journal, Illustrated case reports in gastroenterology (London, Chapman and Hall). This contained high quality illustrations and an accompanying slide set in each issue. It was an interesting venture but was superseded by the digital imaging revolution.
Klaus was a dapper person, sporting a neat grey beard and with a taste for striking ties. His energy was prodigious. He was highly cultured, with interests in literature, art, music, opera and also nature and his gardens. He was an inveterate traveller, visiting many parts of the world for professional purposes but also travelled widely for interest and pleasure. He had an impish sense of humour, but was basically a serious person with a love of reasoned debate. He was a pacifist and actively supported many humanitarian organisations.
He retired from the NHS (with some relief, having become dismayed by the direction it was taking) in 1992, but continued in private practice, in medico-legal work and serving on advisory tribunals. He continued to attend the gastroenterology meetings at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.
He was a devoted family man and took great pride in his homes, particularly the Mill at Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire, to which he retired. He married Judith Anna (‘Judy’) née Bennett in 1962. They had three sons (Nick, Adrian and Ben) and one daughter (Ginny).
Mark G Britton
[Oxford Mail 22 July 2010; The Guardian 1 August 2010; The Independent 2 August 2010; The Lancet Vol 376 9746 1048 25 September 2010; British Society of Gastroenterology www.bsg.org.uk/sections/bsg-endoscopy-general/bsde-history.html – accessed 17 January 2011]
(Volume XII, page web)
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