Lives of the fellows

John Montchal Kellett

b.2 March 1938 d.21 July 2010
BChir Cantab(1962) MB Cantab(1963) DPM Eng(1965) MRCP(1968) MRCPsych(1972) FRCPsych(1981) FRCP(1986)

John Kellett was a psychiatrist at St George’s Hospital Medical School, London. He was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, the son of Charles Ernest Kellett [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.313], a physician, and Elizabeth Kellett née Scott, a housewife. He studied medicine at King’s College, Cambridge, and University College Hospital, and completed house jobs there in respiratory medicine and general surgery. He then, in a typically single-minded way, set about fulfilling his ambition to become an academic psychiatrist. His first psychiatric positions were at Fulbourn Hospital, Cambridge, first as a senior house officer and then as a registrar, and he started a therapeutic community in a rehabilitation ward. He subsequently moved back to London, to the North Middlesex Hospital, where he was a registrar in psychiatry and gained his diploma in psychological medicine in 1965. He was determined to be a good general physician too, so he did a spell in general medicine and obtained his membership of the Royal College of Physicians in 1968.

Following this temporary diversion, he returned to psychiatry as a registrar at the Maudsley, gaining experience in a number of departments there, and also worked at Cane Hill Hospital. He became a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 1972.

From the very start of his career, John was committed to close interdisciplinary working and to reducing the stigma associated with mental illness and, specifically, the stigma associated with incarceration in large, isolated mental hospitals. For example, he carried out a survey of consultant attitudes to psychiatry in six general hospitals, concluding that the integration of psychiatry into the general hospital was not likely to meet with antagonism (‘Attitudes to psychiatry in the general hospital’. Br Med J. 1970 Oct 10;4[5727]:106-8), and then developed this research to find out the causes of the discrepancy between the prevalence of psychiatric disorder among medical and surgical patients and the low rate of referral to psychiatrists (‘Reasons against referral to the psychiatrist’. Postgrad Med J. 1971 Jun;47[548]:315-9), all with the purpose of improving the relationship between psychiatrists and other specialties so that referral practice could better meet the needs of the patient. Meeting the needs of his patients was always central to his clinical practice.

John Kellett joined St George’s Hospital Medical School in 1972 and worked there until his retirement in 1998; he was a consultant at Atkinson Morley’s and Springfield hospitals. He continued his research within the academic department of psychiatry and pioneered links between the academic departments of geriatrics and psychiatry. Clinically he worked with colleagues from different disciplines to build a comprehensive geriatric and psychiatric hospital-based service for older people in the London Boroughs of Merton and Wandsworth, collaborating with Merton Social Services and Merton Mind to develop a comprehensive domiciliary service with carer support, day hospital care and a linked inpatient service for elderly people with dementia. Later, in cooperation with the Institute of Psychiatry, he set up an important dementia research service, linking together the results of systematic inpatient assessment during life with subsequent findings at post mortem. He also contributed greatly to the work of the European Union research project into dementia care, making St George’s an acknowledged centre of excellence in this area. In addition, he developed and organised innovative teaching programmes for medical students and, in collaboration with others, established courses for the training of sexual/marital therapists, setting up the St George’s Hospital Medical School diploma course in human sexuality. His achievements were recognised by his election to the fellowship of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 1981 and of the Royal College of Physicians in 1986. After leaving the NHS, John continued to work with Mental Health Review Tribunals until he finally retired in 2007.

John’s patients and their carers will always remember him as a caring and compassionate doctor who did everything he could to lighten their burden. His colleagues and friends will remember him as a great enthusiast for life – and for his veteran Rolls-Royce. He was fun to be with, always interesting, curious and inquisitive. He was a person of great integrity and did not shy away from controversy if important principles were at stake. His diabetes, which was diagnosed when he was 21, never deterred him from doing anything that he had set his mind to and he retained an infectious zest for life until he became frail himself.

He married Antonia Young in 2000 and together they enjoyed his retirement, continuing to travel abroad, although John was having increasing difficulties with walking due to his diabetes. It was a cruel irony that, having devoted most of his professional career to researching dementia and to developing specialist services for frail elderly people with mental health problems, John himself should become frail, both mentally and physically. During this difficult time, Antonia cared for him devotedly. He also left two children from his first marriage (Tom and Tessa) and three grandchildren (Mirabelle, Jesse and Kitty).

Hamid Ghodse

[The Psychiatrist January 2011 35:37]

(Volume XII, page web)

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