Lives of the fellows

Donald Fletcher Scott

b.29 November 1930 d. 5 February 2016
MB ChB Edin(1957) MRCP Edin(1960) MRCP(1960) DPM(1963) FRCP(1977)

Donald Scott was consultant-in-charge of the clinical neurophysiology department at the London Hospital. He was born in Crostwight, close to the sea in a rural area of north east Norfolk, a village which appeared in the Domesday Book of 1086 and on the magnificent 17th century maps of the Dutch cartographer Joan Bleau. He was the son of a farmer, Alexander Connell Scot, and his wife, Jane Syminton Scott. Prior to his younger sister Marion’s birth in 1935, the family moved a few miles inland to live at Thwaite Common near Erpingham.

After his education at Thetford Grammar School, Donald undertook his two-year National Service in the Royal Army Medical Corps as a nursing orderly. In the preface to his 1970 book The psychology of work (Duckworth), he wrote: ‘As a boy I worked in the harvest field and knew aching muscles and a vacant mind. In the army I again had another view of repeated and boring activities.’ The end result was his medical training at Edinburgh University Medical College, qualifying in 1957, and then house surgeon and house physician posts, including working in neurology in Edinburgh hospitals. This was followed by starting specialist training at the Institute of Psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital in London from 1961. He had a year’s secondment to a research post at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota (from 1965 to 1966), working there with Reginald Bickford [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.54], a British doctor who had trained at Cambridge and University College Hospital, London. Bickford ran a world-leading department of clinical neurophysiology, including pioneering works on computer analysis of EEGs (electroencephalograph) and their use for control of depth of anaesthesia. Donald became a firm friend until Bickford’s death, no doubt in part because they shared the experience of farming backgrounds, the Bickford family having farmed in Brewood, Staffordshire for over 400 years, but also in their passion for clinically useful and practical applications of electroencephalography.

In 1967, Donald was appointed as consultant-in-charge of the London Hospital’s department of clinical neurophysiology. He maintained the tradition of his predecessor, Samuel Last, of incorporating a biomedical engineer into the departmental team. This led to increasing advances in signal analysis, culminating in the development of highly respected methods for outcome prediction based on studies in collaboration with St Bartholomew’s Hospital in-patients after resuscitation for cardiac arrest (‘Electroencephalographic prediction of fatal anoxic brain damage after resuscitation from cardiac arrest.’ Br Med J 1970 Oct 31;4[5730]:265-8), from which the Survival Predictor was developed by Douglas Maynard. It also led to the design of a series of cerebral function monitors, developed by Maynard initially with Last and then with Scott.

Donald was kind and compassionate to patients and staff. His colleagues have described him as ‘an intelligent, friendly and polite researcher’ who ‘guided his juniors in proper scientific processes – but always put care of the patients first’. He was a loyal friend to so many of us. He also followed in the London Hospital tradition of writing about medicine and a wider field of activities, led by Russell Brain [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.60] and others. Donald’s modesty about his work was such that few of us knew about his substantial literary output with a wide range of books and articles revealing his feeling of support for those with physical, psychological and personal problems. He wrote nine books, as much about life as medicine, including Neurological and neurosurgical nursing. An introduction (Oxford, Pergamon Press, 1966) with Barbara Dodd, About epilepsy (London, Duckworth, 1969), Fire and fire-raisers (London, Duckworth, 1974), Beating job burnout (London, SPCK, 1989), Coping with suicide (London, Sheldon, 1989) and The history of epileptic therapy: an account of how medication was developed (Parthenon Publishing, 1993). These were interspersed with six chapters in major medical books and numerous papers in scientific journals from 1965 to 1992, often five to ten a year. He often got up at 6am to write before breakfast. Some of his writing was co-authored with his wife Adrienne Moffett, for example, their superb chapter on early development of musical talent in Mozart, Beethoven, Handel and Bach in Macdonald Critchley [Munk’s Roll, Vol.X, p.83] and Ronald Henson’s [Munk’s Roll, Vol.X, p.211] Music and the brain: studies in the neurology of music (William Heinemann Medical Books, 1977).

His biographical details form which he filled in at the time of his election to the fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians in 1977 reveals his hobbies as ‘Gardening, piano playing, swimming. All for enjoyment rather than general acclaim’, summing up the modesty and quiet compassion of the man.

In retirement, Donald greatly enjoyed his activities with his daughter and his son and his five grandchildren (who shared his sense of fun and humour), as well as involvement with local poetry and writing groups and, in common with Russell Brain, with the Quakers. These activities were shared with his second wife, Mary Paterson, with whom he had trained in Edinburgh, after her return from a long career as an obstetrician near Melbourne, Australia.

P F Prior

(Volume XII, page web)

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