Lives of the fellows

John Douglas Mitchell

b.30 June 1951 d.13 February 2011
MB ChB Aberdeen(1975) MRCP(1978) FRCP Glasg(1989) MD(1991) FRCP Edin(1992) FRCP(1993)

Douglas Mitchell was a consultant neurologist at Royal Preston Hospital and research director at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. He was born in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, the son of Thomas Mitchell, a butcher, and his wife, Constance Mary Mitchell, a secretary. He studied medicine at Aberdeen, qualifying in 1975 and winning the Fulton prize in neurology.

After training in general medicine in Aberdeen and Glasgow, he became a registrar in neurology at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge. From 1980 to 1984 he was a senior registrar in neurology in Edinburgh and, from 1984 to 1986, he was a senior lecturer in medical neurology in Edinburgh and an honorary consultant.

In 1986 he was appointed as a consultant neurologist at Preston. Throughout his career Douglas was a popular figure with consultants working at Royal Preston Hospital and doctors within the district hospitals he served, and his opinion was keenly sought.

He was always seen as the motivating force behind the development of services for patients with motor neurone disease (MND) in north-west Lancashire. He established the MND care and research centre, providing specialist care and advice for patients from Lancashire and south Cumbria. While developing the MND service, he carried out research for which he was awarded his MD in 1991. He was subsequently awarded honorary professorships by two local universities.

A less well recognised achievement was the fact that, until the neurology department at Preston expanded in 1995, he was responsible for providing neurology services to a population of around 1.8 million people, along with his two consultant neurologist colleagues, Edmund Critchley and Sarosh Vakil [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web].

He was always very active in research. He was keen to understand the mechanisms of illness and to develop tools to measure how systems are failing. He would often be found in the neurophysiology department testing interesting patients.

He became research director at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and was a leading figure in the north-west Dementias & Neurodegenerative Diseases Research Network. As a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, he brought ‘out of town’ seminars from the college to Preston on a regular basis, organising these himself from their inception in 1995 until 2008.

Douglas married Christine Elizabeth, a medical secretary, in 1983 and they had two daughters, Susie and Catriona, both now successful in their careers. His interests outside work included music and he was a first-class pianist and violinist.

His most recent interest was his running machine, which he kept in a shed at the bottom of his garden. He had made a decision to lose some pounds and cut a more svelte figure. The main obstacle in his path was his recognised love of biscuits. Shortly after arriving in Preston in 1995, Vakil had taken me aside after a neuroradiology meeting and told me: ‘Just to give you a little advice. If you want to get on in this department I would stop eating Douglas’s biscuits before he arrives.’

We already find ourselves saying ‘and what would Douglas have thought of that?’, and a finer tribute to the long-lasting effect a friend, doctor and scientist has had cannot be made. We will miss seeing him wandering along the corridors of Royal Preston at some unearthly time in the morning in order ‘to get some work done’.

Bernard Boothman

[Brit.med.J., 2011 342 2837]

(Volume XII, page web)

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