Lives of the fellows

John Davies

b.16 January 1950 d.10 December 2016
OBE(2011) MB BS Lond(1973) MRCP(1975) FACC(1988) FRCP(1993) FESC(1995)

John Davies was the first specialist cardiologist at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport in his native south Wales. He combined great professional skills with an instinctive empathy for people and an exuberant love of life. He enjoyed and excelled at teaching, and was a nationally-renowned medical educator.

He was born in Crynant, a coal-mining village near Neath in south Wales, where his father, William Hayden Davies, was a miner. His mother was Hannah Dinah (‘Nan’) Davies. His primary schooling was in Welsh, after which he attended Neath Grammar School and then University College London and University College Hospital Medical School. His ability, together with his extremely benign and caring personality, enabled him to secure a series of plum training jobs at University College Hospital, the Whittington, the National Heart Hospital and Hammersmith, before returning to his native south Wales in 1983 to a consultant cardiology post at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport, at the young age of 33.

When he arrived at the Royal Gwent, its heart services were housed in what he used to jokingly refer to as ‘a little black hut in the car park’. Talking to the South Wales Argus back in the 1990s, he recalled: ‘We only had an ECG service when I started. Patients had to go to Cardiff for just about anything to do with heart testing. But gradually we have built things up, and we became the biggest non-invasive cardiology department in Wales.’ When he retired 27 years later, the cardiology department provided a range of diagnostic tests and procedures, to thousands of patients every year, in a dedicated, multi-million pound unit with eight cardiology consultants.

John co-founded the Royal Gwent Cardiology Fund, which over the years raised more than £1 million, giving the department the flexibility to fund equipment and services beyond what the NHS could provide. John took part in the fund's annual fun run for many years.

He was a great encourager of others, a great facilitator when people wanted to develop their skills or improve a service. One example from early in his consultant career was his leading role in the development of the ambulance staff into a team of highly-trained paramedics when this was pioneering work. The ambulance service in Gwent remained grateful to him, and it was they who instigated his OBE award for services to medicine.

John also helped foster Wales’s first cardiac rehabilitation service, helping to raise the necessary salary until the NHS took it on. The exceptional nurse, Jill Evans, who, with his support, pioneered this service, said: ‘It is because of those early fragile beginnings that cardiac rehab is now a recognised part of the care for those recovering from heart problems… John had such a gift for showing confidence in you. I honestly think I would not have moved into my current role, which I love, teaching health professionals and speaking at national conferences, without his early support. This lesson of the importance of early encouragement is something I have leant from John and have always put into practice since.’

John was a renowned medical teacher, and in fact was teaching Cardiff medical students at the Royal Gwent until his death, consistently scoring very highly on students' feedback sheets. As a registrar in London, he was asked by the dean of University College Hospital Medical School, Tom Prankard, to go to Libya to help establish their first clinical medical school, which he did for three months. He then began running MRCP revision courses in London. At the Royal Gwent, and later at the Brompton, he started successful and oversubscribed MRCP part two weekend courses. Since 1993, seeing that there was a gap in the provision of tuition for medical specialists in training, he ran well-received weekend conferences in Oxford and Cambridge.

John had always been slightly frustrated by the rather cumbersome system whereby patients came to outpatients, often after some weeks’ wait, then had to return for diagnostic tests, followed by a third visit to discuss the results and treatment. On retirement from his NHS consultant job, he set out to run a ‘one-stop’ service, where this could all be condensed into a single visit. So he set up the Newport Cardiac Centre, an independent cardiology clinic, which he ran to the great satisfaction of patients, staff and himself for five years.

He was a congenial and well-respected colleague. He was kind, collaborative and supportive, and was held in great affection by hospital staff and by patients. He had the gift of seeing the good in everyone.

He was interested in history, and was fortunate to have a three-month sabbatical spent at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. On several occasions, he gave talks on Hunter ‘the first surgeon’ and his correspondence with Jenner of smallpox vaccine fame.

He loved music and regretted that he himself did not have a good singing voice, but supported others, being president of the Dorothy Adams Singers in Newport and organising marvellous St David's Day evenings of songs and poetry. He and his wife Cathy went frequently to opera and were devotees of Glyndebourne. John was a passionately keen fisherman, and travelled all over the world in pursuit of this hobby, fishing for salmon in Russia, seatrout in Tierra del Fuego, mahseer in India and – his favourites – trout on the River Test and salmon on the River Usk, just two miles from home. He remained closely connected to his village of Crynant and was president of the rugby club from 1989.

He was survived by Cathy, his children Meg, William, Bethan and Catrin, his five grandchildren and his mother, Nan.

Cathy Davies

[South Wales Argus 13 December 2016 – accessed 30 May 2017; BMJ 2017 357 1930 – accessed 30 May 2017]

(Volume XII, page web)

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