Lives of the fellows

Dewi Davies

b.7 July 1921 d.10 April 2017
MB BS Lond(1945) MRCP(1949) MD(1950) FRCP(1970)

As the single-handed physician superintendent of Ransom Hospital from 1955 to 1973, Dewi Davies was one of the last, if not the last, pulmonary tuberculosis doctors. He was a quiet, unassuming man who did a great deal to help others throughout his medical career.

Dewi was born at Llangeler in Carmarthenshire, south Wales. His father, David Davies, was a farmer and his mother, Mary Davies née Rees, also came from a farming background. He was educated at Llandysul Grammar School, then at Guy's Hospital, London, where he qualified MB BS in 1945. He passed the MRCP exam in 1949 and acquired an MD in 1950.

After National Service in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), he worked in various jobs in and around London, ending up at Harefield Hospital, before being appointed in 1955 as physician superintendent at Ransom Hospital and as a consultant respiratory physician to Mansfield Hospital. He was awarded a travelling scholarship to Canada for three months in the 1960s; he and his family lived on site so he was able to oversee patients at any time.

During this period he wrote a case report of the successful resuscitation of a patient who had, post pneumonectomy for carcinoma, herniated his heart through the pericardium. Whilst seeing the patient on his late evening ward round, the man lost consciousness and experienced tachycardia and high venous pressure. The surgeons were called, opened the chest, reduced the hernia, which allowed the heart to pump normally, and repaired the defect. The patient recovered and did well. Dewi later wrote a short history of the hospital, which contains an excellent description of the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis in the late 1950s and 1960s, including the use of artificial pneumothorax and thoracoplasty.

As a young consultant he reported the results of giving a detailed account of the management of tuberculosis to all new patient admissions and then asking them a week later what they had been told; ‘Nothing’ was the usual response!

In 1968 he was made chairman of the research committee of the British Thoracic and Tuberculosis Association. He was also chairman of the disability advisory committee, Department of Employment and Productivity, for Mansfield, an important mining area.

As the number of cases of tuberculosis fell, he became more involved with the British Thoracic Association, serving as vice chairman of the research committee from 1970 to 1971 and chairman from 1971 to 1974. He followed this by becoming president of the Association from 1975 to 1977. He is then credited, with Margaret Turner-Warwick, with setting up the British Thoracic Society. He was treasurer from 1982 to 1986 and was made an honorary member in 1991. Later in retirement he helped with the archives.

In 1973 he moved to Nottingham City Hospital to form a firm with the newly-established academic department of therapeutics in the first new medical school of the 20th century. He took to teaching the junior doctors, the students in the new medical school and being on general medical take like a duck to water. Many of the juniors were later appointed to senior posts and continue to make a contribution to research. He and a colleague, initially W H Roderick-Smith and latterly J Macfarlane, provided all the respiratory services for the Nottingham hospitals and those in Newark. There are now 28 consultants doing the same job.

All who came in contact with him were impressed by his kindness and support, including the professor of physiology and ex dean of the medical school, Peter Fentem, who joined the department to oversee the respiratory testing arrangements. Dewi was an excellent diagnostician and a trusted colleague, whose wise counsel was always valued, especially by the thoracic surgeons and the intensive care staff. His advice has been described as ‘druidic’, which reflects his Welsh roots, of which he was very proud. For many years he was an active member of the Nottingham Welsh Society. Towards the end of his time at the City Hospital he was a major influence in the setting up of the academic department of respiratory medicine.

He had a habit, from which he suffered all his life, of falling asleep at any time. In an X-ray conference he would do this, wake up and look at the chest film which had been the subject of much debate and briefly comment: ‘It will be TB’. He would then return to sleep. He was invariably correct.

Throughout his time at the City Hospital, he established contact with the Ceylon College of Physicians, founded in 1967. He sent them used medical journals on a regular basis, as they were unable to afford new ones. He also visited them at his own expense on several occasions to deliver lectures.

p>He retired from the NHS in 1981. At his retirement ‘do’ he said his experience was that the NHS improved year on year. I wonder what he would say now! Despite ‘retirement’, he continued to work on medico-legal cases until he was 83, specialising in employment-related chest disease, mainly helping miners get compensation for pneumoconiosis. During that time, he was, for one year, president of the Nottingham Medico-Legal Society.

All his life he had an interest in the stock market and was a careful investor. In 2014, with the agreement of his family, he donated £1 million to set up the Dr Dewi Davies Endowment Fund. This fund is used in relatively small amounts to help those individuals or groups who are working for the poor, disadvantaged people of specified parishes in south west Wales. He did this ‘to put something back’. For his generosity he was awarded a philanthropic prize by the Fund for Wales.

He was also heavily involved with his local community in Farnsfield, being at one stage a parish councillor, amongst other appointments. He also kept an eye on friends and their families for medical problems. For leisure he enjoyed listening to classical music, as well as reading poetry and prose in English and Welsh, a pastime he wrote about in the British Medical Journal (‘Reading for pleasure: Celtic and non-Celtic nostalgia’ BMJ 1979 2 433).

He died peacefully. About 200 people attended his funeral, some of which was in Welsh. He will be missed by all who knew him. He was survived by his wife Ann (née Baldry), a physiotherapist he married in 1947, their four children (Shán, Hugh, Philip and Robin), eight grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

David Banks
Ann Davies
Ann Booth

[BMJ 2017 357 2418 www.bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j2418 – accessed 24 July 2017; Newark Advertiser nd http://newarkadvertiser.co.uk/news/2017/04/20/well-respected-physician-worked-until-he-was-83 – accessed 24 July 2017]

(Volume XII, page web)

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