Lives of the fellows

John Joseph Frederick Hamblin

b.16 November 1934 d.31 August 2014
MB BS Lond(1958) MRCP(1963) FRCP(1977)

John Hamblin was a consultant physician at Southend Hospital with a special interest in diabetes, renowned for his clinical acumen as well as his ready wit. His choice of A levels – Greek, Latin, French and History – would not be the obvious choice for a career in medicine nowadays, but it did lead to a place at the London Hospital Medical School, Whitechapel, and to a lifetime passion for culture and travel.

He met his wife to be Mary at the London and, after house appointments in the East End of London, he entered National Service. With his young family he went to Nigeria to serve in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the time of the Congo Crisis. Having trained at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, he was disappointed not to be challenged by tropical diseases but rather by sexually transmitted diseases rife in the United Nations peacekeeping force.

After his spell in West Africa, he returned to the London and there had five years of postgraduate training. This culminated in his appointment as a consultant physician at Southend Hospital at the age of just 32. He rapidly established himself as a highly respected consultant, admired for his excellent clinical skills, breadth of knowledge and dedication to his patients at all hours. He was well known for his willingness to help out other colleagues and, because of his special interest in diabetes, formed close relationships with obstetricians, surgeons and ophthalmologists. He made many friends with GPs and colleagues (which enlarged his circle of bridge players), and he recognised the value of close cooperation in patient care. When he started at Southend Hospital there were only three general physicians and no scans or computers; clinical skill was paramount. Clinical freedom was greater, management less and he truly enjoyed his work.

John was responsible for setting up the multidisciplinary diabetic day centre and the intensive care unit, together with John Atkinson, an anaesthetist. He actively ran this virtually every day for many years until a bigger team took over. Despite his irritation at managers, he did become for a while chairman of the consultants committee, chairman of the medical unit and served on the regional board. He was part of the team that went to the House of Commons to see Edwina Currie, then a minister of health, to implore the Government to save Southend Hospital’s cancer unit. Fortunately, this was successful.

He inspired generations of junior doctors who worked with him throughout his career and of course one of his sons, Michael, who is now a consultant haematologist at Colchester Hospital.

Despite his years of pipe smoking and unconventional diet, he made it to 79. As a doctor who was deeply sceptical of ‘best medical advice’ not backed by evidence, he would have found this amusing.

He could be difficult, certainly outspoken, but his patients would always come first. One of his greatest claims to fame was his letter writing, which began in the days before political correctness and was notorious for his wit and amusing comments. They were much enjoyed by his colleagues and GPs. He was known for his passion for opera and music, as well as bridge and held a vast collection of music recordings at home.

He had a difficult final year with a diagnosis of cancer of the pancreas and lung. He was always supported by his loving wife Mary, who was the perfect hostess for social medical occasions, and who, along with their four sons, survived him. They had first met each other at school aged five, so it was a wonderfully long association.

Dennis Eraut

(Volume XII, page web)

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