Lives of the fellows

Major David Eilenberg

b.18 August 1925 d.6 February 2012
MB BS Lond(1949) MRCP(1952) DPM(1958) FRCP(1973) FRCPsych(1973) MRANZCP(1975) FRANZCP

Eilenberg was a consultant psychiatrist, first at Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow, and then in Auckland, New Zealand, where he emigrated in 1975. He was an exceptionally able clinician with administrative ability and an intense interest in medical ethics. He was born in Pitsea, Essex, the older of the two children of Sidney Eilenberg, a confectioner, and Annie Eilenberg née Shube. Sidney Eilenberg went to England from Poland in 1915. His wife and her parents had arrived from Poland some years earlier. Major, a name deliberatively chosen by his father for its distinctiveness and which caused lifelong confusion with the military rank, was educated at Hackney Downs School, a London County Council grammar school formerly the Grocers’ Company’s School. The school’s alumni include Steven Berkoff, Michael Caine and Harold Pinter, among many other notable men. Eilenberg graduated from the London Hospital Medical School in 1949.

After house officer appointments at the London Hospital, Eilenberg did his National Service in the medical branch of the RAF (from 1953 to 1955), serving in the Middle East with the rank of squadron leader. He then became a registrar and a senior registrar at the Maudsely Hospital, from 1955 to 1961. The Maudsley was the specialist NHS hospital which, in partnership with the Institute of Psychiatry, provided training in psychiatry for United Kingdom and some Commonwealth graduates. The Maudsley was then the world’s leading postgraduate school of psychiatry. Eilenberg flourished. He published, as an author or co-author, 10 papers based on research conducted during his training, a remarkable achievement for a junior doctor. Two papers were particularly notable: a study of 1,200 emergency psychiatric admissions over one year to an observation ward (Eilenberg MD, Pritchard MJ, Whatmore PB. ‘A 12-month survey of observation ward practice’. Br J Prev Soc Med. 1962 16:22-9) and a comparison of 1930 and 1955 admissions to Stamford House, a boys’ remand centre (Eilenberg MD. ‘Remand home boys’. British J Criminology 1961 Oct 111-131). Prominent in both are his interest in medical aspects of psychiatry and the importance of administration in providing health care. His other papers reported controlled drug trials, case reports, neurophysiology of ECT and the prognosis of neurosis in pregnancy.

To broaden his experience, Eilenberg spent a year (from 1961 to 1962) at the Mayo Clinic as a staff psychiatrist. From there he published three papers, one on liaison psychiatry, showing his developing interest in this specialty (Eilenberg MD. ‘Survey of in-patient referrals to an American psychiatric department’. Br J Psychiatry 1965 111 1211-4). He joined the Mayo Clinic chapter of Sigma Xi, a society dedicated to promoting integrity in science and engineering.

Eilenberg returned to England to be a consultant psychiatrist, first at Wembley Hospital (from 1963 to 1970) and then at Shenley and Northwick Park hospitals (from 1970 to 1974). At Shenley he was a member of the hospital management committee. He was also a member of the North-West Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board (from 1970 to 1974).

Northwick Park Hospital was established in 1970 jointly by the NHS and the Medical Research Council (MRC) to provide for clinical research. Here Eilenberg became a key figure in establishing the new NHS psychiatric service and ensuring its cooperation with the MRC Clinical Research Centre, where TJ Crow was appointed by the MRC as head of their division of psychiatry in January 1974. Such was Eilenberg’s stature that he became chairman of the ethical committee for Northwick Park Hospital, a committee that played a key role in facilitating clinical research across all disciplines. A British Medical Journal sponsored discussion on the ethics of clinical research between Eilenberg, LJ Witts, Nuffield Professor of Medicine at Oxford, and R Williams, director of liver research at King’s College Hospital, shows Eilenberg’s grasp of the principle issues (‘New horizons in medical ethics: research investigations in adults’. BMJ 1973 2[5860] 220-4). Essentially Eilenberg argued for promoting a culture of ethical concern among all professions involved in clinical research.

In 1974, to the astonishment of his colleagues, Eilenberg said he and his family were moving to Auckland, New Zealand, as he put it, ‘to go back 50 years in time’. They arrived on New Year’s Day 1975. The upper age for permanent migration to New Zealand was then 45 years. Eilenberg was 49. Because of his distinction an exception was made and he was appointed director of the division of psychiatry at Auckland Hospital. His superior clinical ability, grasp of medical administration and mentorship were appreciated. And his advice on psychiatric aspects of medical and especially neurological illness was sort after. He retired from his hospital post in 1985 to work part-time in the geriatric unit at Auckland Hospital as a valued liaison psychiatrist until 2002.

He was a clinical teacher in Auckland’s Medical School. He had also a private consulting practice at the Bexley Clinic in Auckland, where he continued until 2008.

After his death a colleague, who had known him since 1975, remarked, ‘He made an enormous contribution to Auckland psychiatry in both the formal training of young psychiatrists and as a role model for new consultants, encouraging participation in administration, service delivery and negotiation with management.’

Eilenberg’s chief interest, outside his family, was golf. His regret was not to have gone to Auckland 10 years earlier.

In 1955 Eilenberg married Elizabeth Joan Rothwell, a senior charge nurse at the London Hospital and daughter of Frederick Rothwell, vicar of Denmead, Hampshire. Eilenberg was survived by Elizabeth and their two sons, Richard, a dentist, and Philip, an accountant. A third child, Nigel, died in 2011.

Brian Barraclough

(Volume XII, page web)

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