Lives of the fellows

Peter James Moorhead

b.28 February 1934 d.13 July 2008
MB ChB Liverpool(1958) MRCP(1964) FRCP(1978)

Peter Moorhead was a consultant renal physician in Sheffield. He was born in Liverpool, the son of Patrick Moorhead, an office manager. His brother, John Francis Moorhead, also became a doctor. Peter was educated at St Edward’s College in Liverpool and then studied medicine at Liverpool University, qualifying in 1958.

After junior posts, he was appointed as a consultant physician in general and renal medicine at the Northern General Hospital, Sheffield, in 1967, with responsibilities at the Royal and Lodge Moor hospitals when the other renal physician, Margaret Platts, was away. With over 60 beds at the Northern, he opened a small acute renal failure unit, with two Kiel kidney dialysis machines and a large peritoneal dialysis service. These were the days when transplantation was not freely available, and patients were not always chosen to receive dialysis. Patients were taken for acute conditions which would hopefully settle, including glomerulonephritis, poisonings (including aspirin overdose), autoimmune conditions and acute tubular necrosis. Diabetics and those over 60 or with significant heart disease were usually not accepted.

He also had a busy acute medical practice, covering the medical take for the 1,200-bedded hospital every Friday, committing him to a Saturday ward round every week, as well as the usual twice weekly rounds. As with the other physicians at the hospital, he had a ward of beds for the elderly, which included some long-stay patients. He maintained a special interest in hypertension in pregnancy, and had a clinic, with the obstetricians, for the care of medical problems in pregnancy, mainly dealing with hypertension and diabetes.

He was an enthusiastic teacher of medical students, and his ward rounds were always interesting, as well as ‘fun’. He had a rather dry sense of humour, which was always in the background, but never used cruelly, as many consultants of his day would have done. He was very keen to get quiet students to ‘open up’ and take part in discussions. There would be a group of six to eight on the firm for 10 to 12 weeks in those days, doing either ‘junior medicine’ or ‘senior medicine’. Shy students were frequently requested to answer some query with at least a few words. On one occasion, Peter finally asked a timid student to tell the group about something he was interested in and they were given detailed information on maintaining a motorbike.

He was always very helpful with the practical care of patients, and willing to teach procedures. He was a ‘wizard’ with blood vessels, renal biopsies and peritoneal dialysis catheters. He fashioned arteriovenous fistulas himself in theatre. He was ‘quick’ on ward rounds; when he decided a lumbar puncture should be done he might get sister to bring a tray to the bedside and would carry out the procedure within five minutes!

He was always supportive of his colleagues. With ‘only’ 45 consultants in the hospital in the late 1970s, there was still a thriving consultants’ dining room, with two sittings. He was not averse to a quick ‘consultation’ there, but generally liked to talk about things other than medicine. With his knowledge of books, and his reading of Nature, the consultants could always be assured of an interesting half hour over coffee on things to do with the universe or molecular biology, some new particle or a theory of infections coming from outer space. As the concept of the consultants’ dining room faded, to be replaced by packed lunches and coffee, it was the hope of his presence which would draw many of his colleagues, until the room was finally turned into a patients’ discharge lounge.

He did more than his fair share of ‘administrative’ jobs (not really ‘management’ in those days). He was chairman of the district medical committee for four years, and did a very long stint as chairman of the north Sheffield research ethics committee, having been its secretary almost from the beginning.

Peter was physically very fit. He cycled a lot, even up to his last days. We had eight tennis courts in the hospital grounds in those days (now mainly car parks), but he found that a bit pedestrian; he preferred squash.

He never really wanted to retire, but did move out of the centre of Sheffield to Penistone and the ‘wide open spaces’; he loved the countryside, and kept bees and had a large garden. After retiring from the Northern in 2001, he kept working until over aged 70, doing a long locum in general medicine and diabetes at Barnsley Hospital, which was within range of his bicycle, from Penistone, at about 12 miles. He didn’t talk about his health, but we found out after his death that he had had atrial fibrillation, and did not want to take warfarin, relying on aspirin and exercise.

In 1961 he married Jean McKenzie. They had three sons and a daughter. Three of his children became doctors. Peter collapsed with a stroke and died two days later – quickly, as he would have wished. The new build chronic dialysis unit at the Northern General Hospital, built on the site of his old wards, has been named the ‘Peter Moorhead dialysis unit’ in his honour.

S R Brennan

(Volume XII, page web)

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