Lives of the fellows

Heather Bell Nunnerley

b.10 May 1934 d.16 September 2014
MBE(2009) MB ChB Liverp(1956) DCH(1958) DObst(1959) DMRD(1967) FFR(1970) FRCR(1975) FRCP(1997)

Heather Nunnerley was an outstanding radiologist who made major contributions to the development of both interventional hepatobiliary and breast radiology. During her time at King’s College Hospital, London, she was director of the radiology department (from 1986 to 1996), director of the south east London breast cancer screening programme and chairman of the King’s consultants’ committee. She served the Royal College of Radiologists as a member of the faculty board, radiodiagnosis, and of the council, and as an examiner for the fellowship, both in London and overseas.

Heather was born in Croydon and brought up in Liverpool. Her father, Stanley Herbert Nunnerley, was a chartered accountant; her mother, Janet Thompson Nunnerley, was a housewife. She was educated at Calder High School and then won a scholarship to study medicine at the University of Liverpool. After qualifying in 1956 and junior hospital posts in paediatrics at the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and obstetrics at the Mill Road Maternity Hospital, she worked in general practice in Stafford from 1959 to 1965. Heather then decided to pursue a career in radiology. She trained in radiology at King’s during a period of rapid change in this specialty, and during this time was awarded the British Institute of Radiology scholarship in order to study the innovations in imaging that were rapidly developing in Sweden during this decade. She was appointed as a consultant radiologist at King’s College Hospital, London, in 1974, where she practised until 1998.

During the early years of her consultant career Heather achieved a reputation in two main subspecialty interests of hepatobiliary and breast imaging. She worked closely with her colleague John Laws [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.329], embracing the new challenges in diagnostic and interventional hepatobiliary radiology that contributed to the development of a major adult and paediatric service at King’s College Hospital, a legacy that remains to this day. She actively collaborated with the physicians Roger Williams and Alex Mowat [Munk’s Roll, Vol.X, p.351], and the surgeons John Dawson [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web] and Ted Howard to establish King’s as a centre recognised internationally for the research and treatment of liver disease. She was a pioneer of interventional liver techniques to both diagnose and treat liver disorders. These skills were not only acknowledged nationally but had a direct impact in improving both the care and survival of so many adults and children.

Heather had introduced X-ray mammography for the breast service at King’s in the late 1970s. Following the publication of the Forrest Report in 1986, she worked with Michael Baum, then professor of surgery at King’s, and King’s radiology colleagues in establishing a new department of breast imaging, and a community based mammography screening programme for south east London. As director of the programme from 1987 to 1998, Heather took part in key clinical and technical developments in breast radiology, including image-guided percutaneous diagnostic techniques, which would radically transform the diagnostic pathway and outcome for those with symptomatic and asymptomatic breast disease, and which have now become part of routine clinical practice. Heather also successfully established King’s as one of the four designated national training centres in the UK, responsible for specialist training for all disciplines providing breast screening and diagnostic services.

In addition to her clinical skills and knowledge, Heather was both an effective leader and administrator, and an enthusiastic teacher and mentor who was always ready to offer valuable advice and guidance to junior colleagues.

In retirement she devoted much of her time to charity work and she displayed her energy and drive for ‘getting things done’ as chairman of the Burrswood Christian Hospital, for which she led a successful fundraising campaign to provide much needed additional accommodation. She also chairman of the Ravensbourne NHS Trust. In 2009 her services to healthcare were recognised with the award of the MBE.

Away from her work, Heather was a devoted aunt, sister and family member and enjoyed holidays walking in the Alps. She was a very committed Christian and, amongst her medical commitments, was an active member of her local church in Beckenham, acting as church warden and a loyal member of the parochial church council. With her generosity of spirit, she was an inspiration to those with whom she worked, and always the first in line to help others. She will be much missed.

Michael J Michell

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List