Lives of the fellows

George Ansell

b.11 December 1921 d.4 November 2012
MB ChB Liverp(1945) MRCP(1947) MD(1949) DMRD(1953) FFR(1955) FRCP(1972) FRCR(1975)

George Ansell was that rare doctor, a radiologist of international academic repute who worked all his life in a district general hospital, at Whiston Hospital on Merseyside. His academic credentials began at the age of 18, when he won a competition for his submission on how to make pedestrian crossings more visible. However, his medical research was almost entirely in the field of contrast media reactions – the study of substances used in medical imaging to enhance the contrast of structures or fluids within the body. He was ahead of his time as one of the pioneers of patient safety in the early days of invasive radiological techniques.

He was born in Liverpool to an immigrant Jewish family. His father, Kivel Ansell, was a wholesale clothier. His mother was Rebecca Ansell née Rubinstein. He was educated at Wallasey Grammar School and Liverpool University Medical School. His older brother Isaac [Munk’s Roll, Vol. IX, p.17] also studied medicine, and both were inspired and taught by Henry Cohen [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.106], who dominated the medical profession in the northwest in the 1940s and 1950s.

George qualified in 1945 with a distinction in pharmacology, becoming a member of the Royal College of Physicians two years later. His MD thesis, published two years after that, in 1949, was on radioactive iodine and he performed the first thyroid isotope scan in the UK, effectively the start of isotope scanning, now the imaging component of the specialty of nuclear medicine.

During this time, from 1948 to 1950, he was a squadron leader in the RAF as a medical specialist.

He then left Liverpool for the only time in his long career, to spend two years in Sheffield as a research fellow in the department of therapeutics. Stimulated by his research in the imaging field of radio isotopes, he returned to Liverpool and entered the relatively new specialty of radiology, gaining the diploma in medical radio-diagnosis in 1953, becoming a fellow of the Faculty (as it was then) of Radiologists in 1955. When the Faculty of Radiologists became a Royal College in 1975, he became a fellow. His fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians was awarded in 1972.

He was appointed as a consultant at Whiston Hospital in 1959, where he was to spend the whole of his career. He developed a radiology records system, which was widely adopted throughout the UK, only being superseded by computerisation.

He was a part-time clinical lecturer in the department of radio-diagnosis at Liverpool University, and held tutorials for registrars, and for the MRCP and FRCS examinations.

However, it was for his work on contrast media and their complications, as well as the radiological manifestations of drug side effects, that he was nationally and internationally known. He carried out a national survey, in 1968, the first of its kind, to establish the incidence of contrast complications. His findings were published in Clinical Radiology as a seminal work (‘A national survey of radiological complications: interim report.’ Clin Radiol 1968 Apr;19[2]:175-91). Amongst numerous publications, his paper published in 1970 in Investigative Radiology (‘Adverse reactions to contrast agents. Scope of problem.’ Invest Radiolo 1970 Nov-Dec;5[6]:374-91) was cited as one of the 12 most important articles ever published by the journal, and was reprinted in the 25th anniversary issue. His book Notes on radiological emergencies (Liverpool, Liverpool Regional Hospital Board, 1966) was a standard textbook for all radiology trainees for many years, prior to the improvement in the safety of these compounds in recent years. He served on the Royal College of Physicians’ committee on diagnostic radiology from 1971, and was an assistant editor of Clinical Radiology from 1968 until the mid-1970s.

He dedicated his life to radiology, even his hobby of enthusiastic amateur photography was image-related.

He married Vera Ruby née Wolfe in 1961, an arranged marriage, which, although childless, was supremely happy. She had an impish and irreverent sense of humour and, despite George’s implacable opposition, smoked heavily, often hiding in her beloved garden with her cigarette when he arrived home unexpectedly.

After retirement they moved south to Stanmore to be near Vera’s family. He continued to contribute internationally and, despite lifelong ill health (he suffered from psoriasis with severe arthritic complications), they travelled extensively. Sadly, despite being considerably younger than George, the smoking caught up with Vera, and she died in 2007. This devastated his last years, and in 2011 he moved into a nursing home, where he died.

Gillian Markham

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List