Lives of the fellows

Euan Charles Beverley Scott Keat

b.10 March 1921 d.10 March 2012
MC(1945) MRCS LRCP(1943) MB BS Lond(1944) MRCP(1948) MD(1949) FRCP(1968)

Euan Keat, consultant physician to the Brighton, Lewes and Mid-Sussex Hospital Group, was a clinician par excellence, devoted to the NHS and to the education of his colleagues and much loved by patients. In a long life he achieved prowess as a sportsman, was decorated for gallantry as a soldier, established a thriving gastroenterology specialty in Brighton and Mid-Sussex, founded an eponymous postgraduate medical centre and became an able sailor and potter.

Born in Ashburton, New Zealand, to George Keat and Julia Keat (née Smith), he went to the UK as a child. After education at St Albans School, he trained at King’s College, London, and Charing Cross Hospital Medical School, qualifying with the conjoint diploma in 1943. After house jobs and a senior casualty officer post at Charing Cross Hospital, he joined the newly-formed Army Commandos, serving as regimental medical officer to No 6 Commando during the final months of the war. During this time he participated (as medical officer) in what was probably the last bayonet charge of the British Army, was awarded the Military Cross and participated in the relief of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He barely ever spoke of Belsen, but retained horrific photographs taken to persuade a disbelieving public at home of the true horrors of such camps.

In 1944 he married Dorothy Abraham, a casualty sister at Charing Cross Hospital during the war years, a marriage that was to last 67 years. They had two sons, Ian and Andrew (who also became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians), four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, including two further generations of doctors.

He was appointed as a consultant physician to Brighton and Mid-Sussex Hospitals in 1954 at the dawn of the NHS. In Brighton, registrars shared the workload, but in mid-Sussex initially he and another physician, Gordon McGregor [Munk’s Roll, Vol.X, p.316], shared only a houseman; if patients were seriously ill or unstable, especially diabetics, he would often sleep in the hospital, in a side-room. Patients with serious infectious diseases were transferred to the local infectious disease hospital but, as he said: ‘that worried me to death; they were much less well staffed then we were’! He was a tireless and admired teacher and examiner and thoroughly persuaded of the value of teams in medicine. In the 1960s, with local GPs and the input of Sussex University, he played a central role in the introduction of one of the first GP training schemes in England; subsequently, with local support and generous funding from local people, especially Sir Ernest Kleinwort, he was able to build a postgraduate medical centre at Cuckfield Hospital – a real innovation at the time. This later moved to the Princess Royal Hospital, Haywards Heath, and bears his name.

With the increasing development of medical specialisation, he developed an interest in gastroenterology. After learning the practice of upper gastrointestinal endoscopy in Japan, he set up an innovative upper gastrointestinal endoscopy service and established the specialty of gastroenterology locally. Such was his attention to detail that, years later, he was able to pull out a histological slide of a jejunal biopsy showing diagnostic changes of Whipple’s disease dated 1962, the year in which it was described. He was up to the minute in thinking and knowledge but ‘old school’ in habit: when asking a colleague to consult on an in-patient he would always attend, being keen to resolve all the difficult issues. He also stood out amongst his colleagues in one other way – having almost undecipherable handwriting!

Such was his closeness to colleagues in hospital and general practice that, in 1960, he co-founded, with a local GP Frederick Linton-Bogle, the Sussex Medical Sphalma Society, which combined honest discussions of medical mistakes with a good meal and wine – the challenging but enjoyable forerunner of the sometimes less engrossing modern day audit meeting. The Society continues. He remained an outstanding physician and a devoted teacher, examining for the MRCP and PLAB (Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board) test until his retirement in 1984. Thereafter he continued to teach and examine for several years and took on the chairmanship of the Cuckfield Hospital League of Friends.

If medicine and family were first and second loves, sport followed a close third. An able sportsman, he loved all games, from cricket, squash, rugby and golf, to card games with the grandchildren. He always remembered all the rules. Even this yielded medical benefits when his well-used cricket bat became a splint for the victim of a motor collision. He also sailed enthusiastically and latterly developed remarkable skills as a potter.

He was lucky to have 27 years of retirement with Dorothy in their home. Over the last years he developed progressive global weakness while remaining intellectually as sharp as ever. In spite of excellent GP care from an old houseman, he was able to observe first-hand the sad state of some aspects of the NHS and vowed never to submit himself again to the degrading and comfortless care he received in his old, much-loved hospital. He was cared for at home by Dorothy and died at home in March 2012. At his funeral, the church was full, mostly with old hospital and GP colleagues, paying a remarkable tribute to one whose professional link had nominally been broken 27 years before.

Andrew Keat

[BMJ 2012 345 5693 – accessed 14 May 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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