Lives of the fellows

Julian Hirsh

b.20 January 1929 d.5 February 2010
MB BS Lond(1952) MRCP(1963) FRCP(1980)

Julian Hirsh was a consultant geriatrician in Barnet, north London. He was born into a Jewish family living in the East End of London, the elder son of Solomon Hirsh, a tailor, and Annie Hirsh née Altman. He was named Julian after Sir Julian Huxley, the first president of the British Humanist Association. From an early age, Julian’s ambition was to be a doctor. His younger brother Cyril remembers that he would go to his room, night after night, to work with a dogged determination to follow his dream.

As the Second World War approached, he and his brother were evacuated to Much Hadham in Hertfordshire. He was a bright, studious boy who kept his goal of becoming a doctor firmly in sight. His new family, seeing Julian’s ability for learning and his kind, quiet manner, helped him to secure a scholarship to Bancroft’s School in Essex. He went on to Harrow County School for Boys for sixth form science teaching and, finally, to University College, London, for his medical studies.

Initial training posts were succeeded by National Service in the RAMC, which included a posting in Egypt. He was then appointed as a registrar to Lord Sholto Amulree’s [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.12] geriatric unit at University College Hospital. As one of Lord Amulree’s dedicated young registrars, Julian was inspired by the ‘king of geriatrics’ and his transformative action in the field of elderly care. At this time, he published an interesting article on the effects of procaine hydrochloride (‘A clinical trial of procaine hydrochloride’ Br Med J. 1961 Dec 23;2[5268]:1684-5). The study was triggered by the then current interest in Ana Aslan’s claim regarding the benefits of this drug on rejuvenating older people. Hirsh’s trial, involving 34 patients, found no improvements.

His subsequent appointments included a post as a medical registrar at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Stratford, and as a senior registrar in geriatric medicine at the Central Middlesex Hospital.

He was one of the new generation of consultants and was appointed group geriatrician at Barnet in 1967 with responsibilities at Barnet General, Finchley Memorial and Potters Bar hospitals, as well as medical officer in charge of the new Marie Foster Centre for the young chronic sick.

He implemented the principles of the new style of geriatric medicine, and fought a hard fight to improve resources, staffing and accommodation. Some of his patients had been inmates at a nearby old Victorian workhouse, where they had received little treatment, compassion or dignity. Julian always had in mind the new science and modern practice of geriatric medicine. This was all about creating dignity and care for those people with no voice of their own and who were being ignored and overlooked. He was known to establish very close relationships with relatives whenever possible.

He took a holistic and compassionate approach to patient care and his colleague Peter Clarke remembers that he was particularly keen to establish ‘Hirsh’s rule of geriatrics’ – reduce the patient’s medication as much as possible, and mental attitude improved through human contact and community care. His consultant colleagues elected Julian as the consultant member of the small team managing the hospitals in the group.

Julian's enthusiasm and persistence produced some very significant achievements, including the opening of a day hospital in Barnet, and the complete rebuilding of the geriatric unit at Finchley Memorial Hospital.

In 1997 he was awarded a medal from the British Geriatrics Society. The award was made to well-known individuals in recognition of their outstanding service to geriatric medicine. He was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1980.

Julian laid the groundwork to ensure that evidence-based, but also humanistic, care would entrench and endure. His quiet way of undertaking enlightened good will be remembered.

He was a kind, cheerful man, greatly respected by his family, friends and colleagues, and was not one to make a fuss or to think of himself as anything special. As well as a father, a scientist, a pioneer, a thinker, a principled and kind-hearted man, he was, in fact, very special to very many people.

He worked tirelessly and quietly, and also talked of early retirement. He told his brother that doctors with his kind of responsibility who retired at 65 were dead at 67, an insight gained from his close involvement with the ageing. He decided to retire at 60, which gave him the opportunity to spend more time with his family, and pursue courses in English literature, silversmithing and photography. He maintained his interest in geriatric medicine by attending lectures at local hospitals.

Julian married Mirjam Earling in November 1961. He first noticed her when they were students in London, but they were not to meet until years later. They had two daughters, Deborah and Judith, and one son, David. Julian died suddenly at the age of 81 at home of heart failure. His wife and children survived him.

Judy Hirsh Sampath

(Volume XII, page web)

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