Lives of the fellows

Peter Edward Baldry

b.24 September 1920 d.17 June 2016
MRCS LRCP(1943) MB BS Lond(1944) MRCP(1949) FRCP(1972)

In the foreword to his book The battle against bacteria. A history of the development of antibacterial drugs, for the general reader, published by the Cambridge University Press in 1965, Peter Baldry cited Louis Pasteur’s observation that ‘…in the field of experiment, chance favours only the prepared mind’. It was a combination of chance and a ‘prepared mind’ that determined Peter Baldry’s career.

He was born in New Malden, Surrey, the son of George Edward Baldry, a banker, and Winifred Kate Baldry née Watkins. Educated at King’s College, Wimbledon, he started to read medicine at St Bartholomew’s Hospital medical school in 1938, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, and as he was wont to observe, was one of the last of those who had started practising medicine before penicillin.

Peter Baldry was very conscious that until the discovery of penicillin and other anti-microbial agents, there had been a great risk of people dying from some microbial disease before reaching the age of 40. A large number of people succumbed in infancy or childhood and others in early adult life, and his own family was no exception, with his maternal grandfather having died in his early thirties, leaving his mother effectively orphaned. His mother in due course lost a baby at an early age to influenza.

Like most of his generation, Baldry joined the Royal Army Medical Corps as soon as his studies permitted. It was here that chance first intervened to determine his career. A sergeant major, making posting allocations, wanted to send him to a prison camp as a medical officer. Baldry asked if there wasn’t anything else available that involved ‘real medicine’. ‘Yes,’ said the sergeant major, ‘you can go off and be a medical officer at a TB hospital.’ ‘Excellent’, said Baldry, ‘That is real medicine.’

This led to Peter Baldry spending the years immediately after the war at Harefield Hospital and becoming honorary secretary of the research committee of the British Thoracic and Tuberculosis Association.

In due course, it became clear that the introduction of a new generation of drugs was bringing TB under control, and at the young age of 33, Peter Baldry was appointed as a consultant physician at Ashford Hospital in Middlesex – at the time the hospital nearest to Heathrow Airport.

The position and role of a consultant in a district general hospital in the 1950s and 1960s was unrecognisable as compared to today. There were far fewer consultants. Ashford, as a general hospital, had a complement of five physicians and five surgeons. Together they collectively and collegiately ran the hospital, the management being represented by a ‘hospital secretary’, who was very much accountable to the consultants as a whole.

Peter Baldry had four large Nightingale wards – two male, two female – and a large chest outpatient clinic, much of which housed mile upon mile of patients’ X-rays. As a general physician in chest and heart medicine, most of Baldry’s patients were victims of lung cancer and he, like many other consultants of his generation, spent much of his time trying to persuade policy makers and the world of the strong and direct causal link between smoking and lung cancer.

Chance was then to intervene again in Peter Baldry’s life, in that for many years his wife, Oina (née Paterson), herself a former theatre sister and sister tutor, had been very unwell and he took retirement from the NHS slightly early to care for his wife, but he had also become increasingly interested in how one managed persistent pain without having recourse to pain relief drugs, the side effects of which could create serious problems. So started effectively Peter Baldry’s second career as this led Baldry to start to study myofascial trigger points and the management of pain through acupuncture.

In the early 1980s, acupuncture was still regarded with serious suspicion by most GPs, not surprisingly as at the time most of its practitioners were unqualified. Peter Baldry was probably one of the first fellows of the Royal College of Physicians to seek to explain trigger point neurology in a language and using a scientific basis that could be readily understood by Western-trained doctors.

So at the age of about 60, Peter Baldry started a second career, practising acupuncture and trigger point dry needling, training other doctors in the use of the technique, and writing a number of textbooks. Over a 15-year period he authored four textbooks on the subject of acupuncture and myofascial pain: three editions of his very successful text Acupuncture trigger points and musculoskeletal pain (Churchill Livingstone, 1989, 1993, 2004) and one entitled Myofascial pain and fibromyalgia syndromes: a clinical guide to diagnosis and management (Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone, 2001). The latter book was intended for his former colleagues – physicians in hospital medicine, particularly rheumatologists.

In due course, Peter Baldry became president of the British Medical Acupuncture Society. He published his last textbook aged 84, and gave his last public lecture on ‘The management of pain’ at the University of Birmingham at the grand age of 94.

In his book, The battle against bacteria, Peter Baldry, in his conclusions, made two observations that are worth repeating.

’It cannot be over-emphasised that both in hospitals and in the general community the instance of drug resistance amongst bacteria is directly related to the degree to which antibiotics are used and for this reason it is now accepted that much constraint should be placed on their use. The general public should learn not to expect to be given antibiotics for every febrile illness unless there is good reason to believe that the illness is of bacterial origin and furthermore, it is of such severity that it cannot be overcome by the body’s natural defences.’

And, reflecting that the successes of post war generations of medical practitioners had led to much longer life expectancy, he concluded ‘… there is a challenge to society to see that the benefits conferred on it by modern science, are not replaced by the miseries associated with a mounting tide of loneliness in old age’.

Predeceased by his wife, Oina, Peter Baldry was survived by his two sons and four grandchildren.

Sir Tony Baldry

[BMJ 2016 354 3940 www.bmj.com/content/354/bmj.i3940 – accessed 16 August 2016; Acupunct Med. 2016 Jul 29. http://aim.bmj.com/content/early/2016/07/29/acupmed-2016-011203.extract – accessed 16 August 2016]

(Volume XII, page web)

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