Lives of the fellows

Carol Jane Foster

b.24 December 1937 d.30 March 2017
BA Cantab(1959) MB BChir(1964) MRCP(1967) FRCP(1987)

Carol Foster was a consultant in geriatric medicine in Bexley. She was born in Orpington, Kent, the daughter of Dudley Foster Herring, a civil servant, and Marjorie Sarah Herring, a housewife. She was educated at the City of London School for Girls and then went on to Newnham College, Cambridge University and St Thomas’ Hospital, London.

She starting working in neurology as a clinical assistant at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square, however geriatric medicine provided a more appropriate and holistic home for her talents and she trained as a senior registrar in geriatric medicine at King’s College Hospital.

In 1978 she was appointed as a consultant geriatrician to Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup. Queen Mary’s had opened as a new hospital in 1974 and there were still very few full-time consultants; she became the first full-time consultant geriatrician. She brought radical change. Until the time of her appointment, the usual model in Sidcup and Bexley was for older people who were frail to be put on a waiting list for admission for what was essentially long-term care in the hospital. Once admitted, it was not expected that you would be discharged. Carol introduced radical, innovative and state of the art geriatric practice. Like a small number of dynamic geriatricians at that time, she promptly reviewed all those waiting for admission and arranged for appropriate assessment, treatment or rehabilitation. The waiting list disappeared.

She started to build services with the community to manage ‘the whole system’ of geriatric medicine, taking an overview of community provision, residential care, as well as acute, rehabilitation and long stay hospital beds. Although some long stay provision remained at Queen Mary’s, increasingly she worked with Bexley Social Services to develop full assessment in all aspects of rehabilitation: no one entered residential care until it had been determined whether or not there were other opportunities in the community. Indeed, by the end of the 1980s, nobody in Sidcup got into residential or even local authority provided sheltered housing, without having had a full multidisciplinary assessment in the geriatric day hospital.

As she developed services, she was able to find funding for new colleagues and by 1987 there were three consultant geriatricians as well as a new senior registrar.

During the 1970s, the Health Advisory Service had regular reviews of all geriatric services. One of the first times they came to Sidcup they had to deal with an official complaint that ‘patients were being discharged by the geriatric service’. By 1987, there were well over 1,000 discharges a year. Carol also had a huge ability to influence others and to organise planned services. She rapidly became a very senior regional geriatrician and a source of advice to local authorities as well as district and area health authorities. She was a genuine and caring physician, admired by her patients and relatives, nurses and junior medical staff for her integrity, knowledge and skills. Of course, she had special expertise in the neurological problems of old age.

She married in 1960 and later divorced. She had two sons and two daughters. Sadly, she developed a chronic illness in the early 1990s and eventually took very early retirement in 1993.

David Black

[Oxleas NHS Queen Mary’s Hospital Newsletter May 2017 – accessed 20 October 2017]

(Volume XII, page web)

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