General Internal Medicine
Designatory Letters: 
BSc Edin 1944, MB Edin 1951, FRCP Edin 1963

Leslie Duncan was a charismatic physician and inspirational teacher. When he took over from Sir Derrick Dunlop in 1962 as physician in charge of the regional diabetic services, he built up a department with an international reputation. Many specialists in diabetes in the UK and abroad trained in this department at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Doctors from as far afield as Australia, Egypt, India, Iraq, Malta, New Zealand, Peru and Spain joined with UK graduates in a happy and friendly department. Leslie enthused them with his clinical abilities and encouraged all his “boys and girls” to conduct research in many different areas such as autoimmunity, autonomic neuropathy, pregnancy, retinopathy, oral hypoglycaemic agents, obesity, hypoglycaemia and ketoacidosis. Much of this original work was presented at international meetings and published in highly related peer-reviewed journals. Leslie himself did the original work on the intravenous glucose tolerance test when he was a lecturer in Edinburgh. He gained much pleasure from the success of his juniors, all of whom regarded him with great admiration and respect.

Leslie Duncan first qualified in veterinary medicine and served in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps from 1944 to 1946 in charge of a network of mules carrying supplies to the allies in Italy. He then studied medicine, qualifying MBChB with honours in 1951. He was awarded a Rockefeller scholarship to USA, studying in Cleveland. Later he was a lecturer in the department of therapeutics at RIE before being appointed consultant.

Leslie’s first priority on assuming responsibility for the diabetic services was to establish a first class clinical service and this he achieved par excellence with innovations some 40 years ago which are still regarded today as new! Educating patients to start insulin, eye screening, foot care, pregnancy management, the innovative use of oral agents, and the management of ketoacidosis were some of the areas in which Leslie excelled. His rapport with patients was outstanding and his total commitment to their care when problems arose allowed those training with him to gain much practical experience in the management of diabetic complications. Some of his techniques were regarded as unconventional such as when he would demonstrate the injecting of insulin to a newly diagnosed patient by lowering his trousers, revealing his purple boxer shorts and sticking a needle into his thigh!

Leslie was a keen sportsman, playing rugby and golf and while in the army, he represented Britain at show jumping and rode in the French Grand National. Leslie was a great host and loved to entertain his junior colleagues at his home in Colinton. He leaves a wife Ann, two children, Joe and Sarah, and three grand daughters.

Contributed by IW Campbell