Geriatric Medicine

Geriatric Medicine lost one of its pioneers with the passing of Professor John Brocklehurst peacefully at home 27 June 2013.

John Charles Brocklehurst was born in Liverpool on 31st May 1924. His family moved to Scotland and he was educated at Glasgow High School and Ayr Academy before graduating in medicine from University of Glasgow in 1947. He was awarded the Christine Hanson Research Fellowship and carried out research into bladder and bowel incontinence in old people using cystometry with smoked drums. This was carried out as a resident at Foresthall which at the time was the Glasgow Workhouse but became Foresthall Hospital with the arrival of the NHS. He was awarded the Bellahouston Gold Medal for his MD thesis and wrote the first of many books – ‘Incontinence in Old People’ in 1950.

He then did his National Service in the RAMC 1950-1951 mostly as the SMO on a troopship – the Empire Medway – visiting North Africa, Egypt, Sudan, Aden, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea. He then returned to Glasgow as Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Materia Medica and Therapeutics at Stobhill Hospital. Two other ‘geriatric giants’ were there – Ferguson Anderson as Chief Assistant and Bernard Isaacs as resident.

His national service had caused a feeling of wanderlust and he spent 18 months in surgery and 6 months in obstetrics before joining the Grenfell Mission in Labrador for two years. His forte for research led to two papers on botulism and eclampsia.

He then returned to Stobhill before being appointed Assistant Physician in Geriatrics in Bournemouth. In 1960 he was appointed Consultant Geriatrician to Bromley Sidcup and Orpington Hospitals where he was responsible for 250 beds with the help of a registrar and 2 SHOs. In 1969 he moved to Guys in London but shortly after applied for and was successful in the appointment of the new Chair of Geriatric Medicine in Manchester University. This was the first Chair in Geriatric Medicine in England. He was one of four professors appointed to develop Withington Hospital as a Teaching Hospital. He started the Geigy Unit for Research in Ageing which became the world renowned University of Manchester Unit for Biological Ageing Research. He remained Director until his retirement in 1990. Due to John Brocklehurst Manchester was one of the leading lights in geriatric medicine.

He was always willing to help colleagues and many world-wide names in geriatric medicine studied under his mantel. He was a very modest man prepared to help anyone who asked. He was an exceptionally hard worker and after retiring from the Chair in 1990 he became Associate Director of the Research Unit of the Royal College of Physicians of London until he finally retired in 1999 aged 75 to spend time painting with water colours and playing the mandolin.

He was a prodigious researcher publishing numerous papers (the last in 2001), writing chapters for books, reports for RCPL, and numerous books of which Brocklehurst’s Text book of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, now in its 7th edition, is the ‘bible’ for all those working in the speciality and beyond.

He was a very able President of the British Geriatrics Society 1984 – 1986 and was involved with many charities to do with the elderly. He was made Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1988.