Lives of the fellows

David Stephen Wright

b.4 August 1935 d.8 February 2011
OBE MB BS Lond(1959) DPH(1967) DIH(1968) MSc Salford(1973) MFCM(1974) MFOM(1978) FFOM(1983) FRCP(1989)

David was born in Purley in Surrey in 1935 and educated at Epsom College before reading medicine at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, where he was Captain of the First Hockey XI, qualifying MBBS (Lon) in 1959. After pre-registration posts at Barts and the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital he joined the Royal Navy as Acting Surgeon Lieutenant for a 3 year commission in lieu of National Service. He served in the Far East and the West Indies Squadrons, including HM Ships Lincoln and Rothesay where his sociable nature and strong professional ethic were recognised by successive commanding officers.

Transferring to the Permanent List in 1964 he trained in occupational medicine in Portland, Chatham and Portsmouth Dockyards gaining the Diploma in Public Health, the Diploma in Industrial Health and later an MSc in Audiology from the University of Salford.

He was appointed to the Institute of Naval Medicine in 1972 as Senior Medical Officer (Audiology) where his interest and expertise enabled him to advise on noise, hearing standards and hearing surveillance policies. He was the technical adviser to the RN training film “Let him hear” which won a BLAT film award. David also had an interest in asbestos and related diseases in dockyard workers, publishing papers on both noise and asbestos as well as contributing to Price’s textbook of the practice of medicine.

David was one of the first Naval Medical Officers of Health (Fleet) appointed to the staff of the Commander in Chief Fleet with the remit of maintaining the health of naval personnel in ships through the practice of prevention – a pertinent reminder of the historic role of naval medical officers.

He was the first doctor for many years to receive staff training attending the National Defence College, Latimer in 1978 before his appointment as PMO of Devonport Dockyard where he impressed with his hard work, diligence and straight talking while remaining tactful - essential skills for his dealings with the Trade Unions and dockyard industrial relations. He was a highly respected trainer of young occupational physicians and inspired others to take up the specialty. In 1981 he was awarded the Errol Eldridge Prize.

With his personal and staffing skills he was a natural choice to become the Medical Appointer. His involvement in the appointing of doctors and other medical staff to the Falklands War gave him a special sense of achievement.

Promoted early to Surgeon Captain he became Director of Health and Professor of Naval Occupational Medicine, being only the second holder of this joint Royal Navy and Faculty professorial chair. In recognition of this work he was awarded Fellowship of the Faculty in 1983. It was at this time that he was also admitted as a Brother Officer of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

Sensing that few real challenges lay ahead for him in the Navy and having been “head-hunted” by BP he applied for early release which was granted reluctantly.

David joined BP as Head of the BP Group Occupational Health Centre leading a team of specialists providing services and advice world wide on a wide range of occupational health issues. He became Group Chief Medical Adviser in 1989 responsible for the organisation of healthcare for BP employees in 75 countries and led an international team on health policy and programmes dealing with work place issues, environmental health, medical support and health promotion. Adapting well to the corporate world he applied his talents to great effect, gaining wide respect throughout the organisation.

It would be easy to think that David’s professional interest was confined to the Navy and subsequently BP but that was not the case. He was involved in medical politics from an early stage in his career, cutting his teeth in the British Medical Association’s Junior Members Forum before progressing to the local division in Portsmouth and the Armed Forces Committee on which he served for 21 years, the last three years as its chair. He was elected to Fellowship of the BMA in 1980.

The third side to his career was the Faculty of Occupational Medicine through which he is probably best known in his specialty. He began as a regional adviser (Professor of Naval Occupational Medicine), was then elected to the Board as an Ordinary Member, becoming Vice Dean and then Dean by election in 1991. His term of office saw the Faculty secure its financial and administrative independence from the Royal College of Physicians yet remain an essential part of it. This was a bold step at the time but it rapidly became evident that it was the right move and did not result in the meltdown predicted by more pessimistic members. In the same period the Faculty made important progress in its examinations, specialty training and publications. David, as Dean, was also deeply involved with the Presidents of the other medical royal colleges and faculties in advising government and its departments.

It was shortly after he stepped down that he was admitted as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for services to occupational medicine.

After his term of office as dean ended David continued to work for the Faculty as chair of its Ethics committee, resulting in the publication of the 5th Edition on guidance on Ethics for Occupational Physicians. This was a ground-breaking publication dealing with a wide range of complex issues not previously addressed, effectively defining the standards of practice expected of all British occupational physicians. It impressed Japanese occupational physicians to such an extent that the document was published in their own language. While David would not have claimed personal responsibility for the success of this publication it can reasonably be argued that his personal qualities and the standards he upheld over a lifetime of practice were a major influence.

Taking full retirement at the age of 60 David enjoyed the best part of the next fifteen years travelling, maintaining an immaculate garden where his dahlias were particularly admired, and taking up local causes including Chairmanship of the Solent Antique and Fine Arts Society and Friends of Stokes Bay Society. He died on 8 February 2011 after a prolonged illness the complications of which were addressed throughout with never failing humour, courage and optimism. He leaves his wife Caroline, sons Mark and Adam, daughter Ali and her children Joshua and Vincent to whom we extend our deepest condolences.

J J W Sykes

[Reproduced from the Journal of the Royal Naval Medical Service, with permission]

(Volume XII, page web)

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