Lives of the fellows

Thomas George Palferman

b.4 June 1947 d.14 April 2014
MB BS Lond(1971) MRCS LRCP(1971) DObst RCOG(1974) DCH(1974) MRCP(1977) FRCP(1992)

Tom Palferman was a consultant physician at Yeovil District Hospital. At Yeovill he created a nationally-renowned rheumatology and research unit, and a pioneering osteoporosis service, for which he won the prestigious Hospital Doctor of the Year award (osteoporosis category) in 1999.

Born into modest circumstances, the oldest of three children, Tom spent his early years in post-war Liverpool. His father, Thomas Palferman, a junior naval officer, and his mother, Constance (née Lee), shared a terraced house with Tom’s grandparents. Tom attended a local county primary school until the age of eight, when the family moved to Portsmouth. Secondary education was gained at Portsmouth Northern Grammar School, where Tom excelled at rugby, playing scrum-half for the school first XV and earning himself a county trial. A talent for playing the drums resulted in the formation of a group which performed regularly at school dances. Tom was inspired to study medicine and was the first member of his family to go to medical school.

At Charing Cross Hospital Medical School rugby and drumming continued to play important roles in his undergraduate career. Renowned for his lively sense of humour and entertaining personality, time was also set aside to indulge his passion for books and classical music. During Tom’s first clinical year he was persuaded, somewhat reluctantly, to attend a ‘hop’ at the London Hospital. Here he met Pamela Whelan, a student nurse from the Westminster Hospital, who was to become his wife of 44 years. Theirs was a true partnership in all respects. They married while students, supported each other through their various exams, and, in time, worked side by side, both in the osteoporosis unit in Yeovil and in establishing a thriving private practice.

Tom qualified as a doctor on April Fool’s Day 1971, intending to pursue a career in general practice. The early years were spent gaining the necessary qualifications. With the diploma of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists under his belt, a year was spent as a general practitioner in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. On his return from Canada he spent a year in a paediatric post at Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton, and gained his diploma in child health. After a short spell as a West Country GP, Tom realised his true vocation was that of physician. Having passed part one of his membership of the Royal College of Physicians while in practice in 1976, he secured a registrar job in general medicine and paediatrics at Yeovil Hospital and passed part two of the examination in 1977. Registrar posts at the Westminster Hospital and St Thomas’ hospitals were followed by a senior registrar post at St Bartholomew’s and Wittington hospitals in general medicine and rheumatology.

Tom gained dual accreditation, thus qualifying him for the post at Yeovil. He was appointed in 1982, at the age of 34, and joined two other general physicians on a busy one-in-three rota. There was no rheumatology unit at this time, but Tom’s London training had engendered a fervent interest, and so he set about developing a top rate unit at Yeovil; second best would not do.

Tom campaigned tirelessly on behalf of his patients, his department and also the hospital, joining local and national committees to negotiate funds and influence, so that national prestige was achieved. Alongside his clinical duties, he ran an active research department, resulting in many publications and presentations.

Over time, Tom became increasingly interested in metabolic bone disease and a state-of-the-art bone densitometer was installed at Yeovil (the first in the south west), and he assembled a dedicated team to deliver the service. A mobile bone densitometry service soon followed, the scanner launched by the actress Susannah York, a guest of honour at the Grosvenor Hotel in 1999 when Tom received the accolade of Hospital Doctor of the Year (osteoporosis category). Tom was approached to develop an osteoporosis service in Guernsey and he was repeatedly invited to lecture on osteoporosis both at home and abroad. He also participated in research, thus earning a reputation as an internationally-recognised opinion on osteoporosis.

Always enjoying the stimulus of lively minds, Tom initiated arrangements whereby medical students from teaching hospitals in Britain and abroad came to Yeovil to study rheumatology. A natural flare for teaching and enthusing would-be physicians/rheumatologists culminated in an invitation to examine for the Royal College of Physicians. He hosted the membership examination twice at Yeovil Hospital.

There were many other career highlights. Tom was appointed president of the section of rheumatology of the Royal Society of Medicine; he chaired the clinical affairs committee of the British Society for Rheumatology; he was an expert adviser to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence; a scientific adviser to the National Osteoporosis Society and he was a board member of the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Alliance, contributing to the standards of care for patients with rheumatic diseases.

The music of Beethoven and Bach frequently filled Tom’s home; he was accomplished on the piano and cello. He combined his love of medicine and music by researching and publishing on the causes of Beethoven’s deafness, resulting in numerous requests for talks, locally, nationally and on the radio; he appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Start the week programme with Melvyn Bragg.

Tom read widely, his interests spanning exploration, poetry, philosophy, art, especially that of Vermeer, and the Yorkshire countryside. He developed a passion for the fells and completed, solo, both the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast Path. The purchase of a cottage in a remote Dales village, together with occasional trips to Switzerland, allowed Tom and Pam to indulge their mutual love of peaceful natural beauty.

Above all, Tom was defined by his family. Nothing ever surpassed the pleasure he experienced of having his wife, four children (Sarah Elizabeth, Simon James Thomas, Alistair Julian and Edward George) and, in time, his extended family, gathered around him at a meal, a glass of fine wine in hand, with lively debate ensuing.

The Palferman family

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List