Lives of the fellows

Bipinchandra Bhakta

b.8 February 1940 d.12 December 2014
BSc Manch(1982) MB ChB(1985) MRCP(1989) CCST(1996) MD(1999) FRCP(2001)

Bipin Bhakta was Charterhouse professor of rehabilitation medicine at the University of Leeds and clinical director for rehabilitation services in Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. Bipin was highly regarded by the rehabilitation community nationally and internationally, serving as president of the Society for Research in Rehabilitation and chairing the forum for academics in rehabilitation medicine in the British Society of Rehabilitation Medicine. Bipin was also a member of the external devices and physical therapies panel of the National Institute for Health Research’s health technology assessment programme, and the medical technologies advisory committee of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. His contribution to academic life in the UK included contributing to the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise health services research sub-panel.

But it was in the Charterhouse rehabilitation technologies laboratory at the University of Leeds that Bipin is most fondly remembered. Bipin pioneered the use of rehabilitation robotics, leading a multi-professional research team with his outstanding grasp of science, from biotribology to neuroplasticity. When confronted by colleagues trying to overcome the difficulties of designing robots of sufficient sophistication to interact directly with humans, his invariable response was ‘how hard can it be’. A satisfactory conclusion to a complex problem was met with a ‘job done’, before a detailed plan to tackle the next phase of the project.

Bipin was born in London. His father, Bhulabhari Bhakta, was a very intelligent man whose ambition to travel to Japan in the late 1930s to study for a PhD was thwarted by the outbreak of the Second World War. His mother, Maliben Bhakta, was a housewife. Bipin’s parents later moved to the UK, where his father worked for British Rail, giving Bipin his lifelong interest in railways.

Bipin gained his MB ChB from Manchester in 1985, with an intercalated BSc in biochemistry. He completed his house jobs at Manchester Royal Infirmary and became a registrar at Wythenshawe Hospital, where his interest in rehabilitation was first stimulated. Bipin moved to Leeds in 1991 as a registrar and then a senior registrar in rehabilitation medicine.

At this time, there were two hospital groups in Leeds, based around the Leeds General Infirmary and St James’s Hospital. Bipin carried out the first work identifying the need for liaison rehabilitation medicine services and was appointed senior lecturer in rehabilitation medicine and honorary consultant physician at St James’s Hospital in 1997, the first acute rehabilitation physician in the UK. Later, when the hospitals in Leeds united as a single trust, Bipin took over as clinical director of the National Demonstration Centre in Rehabilitation, now established across all hospital sites in Leeds. In 2004, Bipin succeeded Anne Chamberlain to become the second Charterhouse professor of rehabilitation medicine.

Bipin was a skilled and dedicated teacher and contributed to each year of the MB ChB programme at the school of medicine in Leeds. He chaired the year four medical and surgical specialties committee from 1999 to 2005, during a period of intense development. His combined knowledge of pedagogical theory and measurement science led to the introduction of sophisticated methods of assessments in the undergraduate curriculum, now seen as a leading example of assessment internationally. His work led to important developments in Rasch analysis, the gold standard for measurement theory.

Bipin was instrumental in improving postgraduate training in rehabilitation medicine nationally, sitting on a number of Royal College committees, including the question-setting panel of the MRCP (UK). He was responsible for the first academic clinical fellowship programme in rehabilitation medicine in the UK and supervised numerous PhD students in clinical medicine, psychology and engineering, many of whom are now leading their own research groups.

Internationally, Bipin was dedicated to improving rehabilitation services in other countries and for many years he contributed to the rehabilitation programme run by the Red Cross in Cyprus.

Bipin retired due to ill health at the beginning of 2014, but continued to contribute to the work of the department, writing research papers and mentoring colleagues up to a few months before he died in December 2014. He was survived by his wife, Shraddha, son, Shiv, a graduate from the school of medicine at Cambridge, and daughter, Maya.

Rory J O'Connor

[University of Leeds Secretariat Obituaries 2014 Bipin Bhakta – accessed 21 April 2016; BMJ 2015 351 6691 – accessed 21 April 2016; British Society of Rehabilitation Medicine e-Newsletter December 2014 p.4 – accessed 21 April 2016]

(Volume XII, page web)

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