Professor Philip Schofield 1930-2012

Posted 02 May 2012 in

Professor Philip SchofieldPhilip Schofield was always a Yorkshire man. Imbued with that county’s best values of honesty, integrity, hard work and straight talking. Things were always what they were – with never pretence to make it otherwise. Clinical problems were met head on and routed by a resourceful intellect, an astounding breadth of technical skill along with a sense of humour that frequently broke into a chuckle, as the problem presented to him by the flustered Christie RSO became more and more impossibly complex. Liked a challenge – enjoyed a challenge.

Huddersfieldwas where the story started. Philip Schofield was an only child, his father was an Industrial Chemist and the 11-plus took him to grammar school. Briefly a Rugby League professional, National Service took him into the RAF before crossing the great divide into the Red Rose County to attend Manchester Medical School graduating in 1955. Here his professional career would be centred for the next 50 years. But as momentous as any medical degree and what made Philip, well Philip was Wendy courtesy of Lancashire. Wendy (medically qualified) and the partnership they forged from medical school was the true foundation of the professional success that followed.

FRCS Ed. (1962) and FRCS Eng. (1963), were followed by an MD on Crohn’s disease 1966 subsequently recognised by a Hunterian Professorship at RCS Eng. Surgical training in Manchester was completed by a year at the Cleveland Clinic, Ohio as the John M Wilson Memorial Scholar with Rupert Turnbull. This was a profoundly important experience in clinical and research training that marked out his future professional direction. Indeed when Rupert Turnbull presented his “no touch technique” results in 1966, it was a certain Dr Philip Schofield (Manchester, England) who rose to his feet and was applauded for his comments on Dr Turnbull’s work. The American connection continued thereafter with the William C Bernstein Memorial Lecture in Minneapolis(1994) and membership of the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons.
While Manchester Royal Infirmary was the obvious appointment, to their loss Philip went toAshton-under-Lyne General Hospital as a Consultant Surgeon in 1969, followed by Trafford General Hospital and finally Withington and theChristieHospitals. A Consultant career that spanned the best part of 30 years, until retirement from the University Hospitals ofSouth Manchester in 1999 and a professional contribution that continues to dominate Colorectal Surgery to the present day.

Multidisciplinary professional working was always the hallmark of Philip’s approach, long before fashionable diktat, because he saw the patient interest in assembling the best radiological opinion, the best pathology opinion, the best oncology opinion along with the best nursing skills and stoma care (Sister Walsh) to get the best surgical result for that patient. Conferences with Eddleston, Haboubi and James would be typically followed by a pelvic procedure in which Colorectal Consultant operated with Gynaecological Oncologist and Urologist to safely remove complex disease and skillfully reconstruct the patient. The Christie Trinity of Schofield/Barnard/Tindall set the bar for complex pelvic surgery where it is today.

When not dividing the IMA (two clamps, tie the lowest, transfix the top), research into colorectal disease was Philip’s passion, in a study lined by books and saddles (Wendy kept horses you see). Collaborations with The Paterson Laboratories in basic science led to work on tumour doubling times, K-ras and the flow cytometric characteristics of colorectal cancer. A randomised controlled trial of preoperative radiotherapy with Roger James, fundamentally changedUKpractice in the adjuvant management of rectal cancer that continues to this day. Clinical research into Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis formed his other research enthusiasm. In all, 200 published articles, 50 chapters and 3 textbooks, manuscripts typed by Wendy, advanced and continue to influence the management of patients with colorectal disease.

Curiosity drove him on – ideas and the careful dissection of their validity and application to clinical problems were the very stuff of his professional life. Sitting with a coffee in the surgeon’s room, glasses pushed on to forehead with dense clouds of pipe smoke filling the air – he read, he argued and he thought about what could advance patient outcomes. And the same curiosity, when presented with a problem bottom in the lithotomy position, moved his natural inquisitiveness nearer and nearer, the arm of his glasses getting closer and closer as he demonstrated the salient features to his trainee.

The quality of the next generation of surgeons, as many who read this will know, was of prime concern to Philip. As well as being a committed surgical trainer to scores of future Consultant surgeons he was Chairman of the Basic Science Examiners FRCS Eng. and Chairman of the Specialty Training Committee in Surgery North Western Region. In that latter capacity he toured theNorth Westto meet all the “registrars” in the region to begin the process of rationalising training jobs. Philip was the inspiration behind the northern, Minneapolis-style, M62 Coloproctology Course, embodying his belief that education was the basis for sound surgical practice. A supportive mentor of accomplishment, with his focus always on the patient interest, he would not allow anything substandard to go unchallenged; to be “that young man” was to risk a surgical career “early-bath”.

Professional Leadership characterised Philip’s place in Colorectal Surgery. President in turn of the North of England Gastroenterology Society, the Surgical Section Manchester Medical Society, the RSM Section of Surgery and the RSM Section of Coloproctology. All of these roles attest to the high esteem in which he was and is held by his national colleagues. But for Colorectal Disease and in particular the advancement of multidisciplinary working for patients with these problems, more was needed and that more was The Association of Coloproctology of Great Britain and Ireland (ACPGBI). Philip was an indefatigable protagonist (with Oates/Grace/Heald/Marks/Thomson and Lewis) and leader in the campaign to establish the ACPGBI, and to secure recognition for Colorectal Surgery as a separate sub-specialty in theUK. Those on the’coal face’ of the fight(s) at that time, around 1989-1990, were always conscious of him as a driving force, and were grateful to him for his determination, especially within the Royal College of Surgeons. And so the result of Philip’s vision (and his terms initially as President, and then Chairman of the Training Committee followed by being Chairman of the Public Relations Committee), is an Association in its 22nd year that has defined colorectal surgical training, set clinical standards, defined cancer audit, established clear position statements, created a multimillion pound research foundation as well as producing a world class journal and helped European Coloproctology move forward; a result.

In truth Philip (and Wendy) never really retired. In his post-NHS period, Philip built a very busy medico-legal practice. He organised the very first Bond Solon / RSM Report Writing Training Day, held at the Law Society in 1997 and from this has grown much of the whole concept of doctors needing to receive medico-legal training to turn them into expert witnesses. Philip would not act as an expert in any case involving a Consultant colleague on the staff of his own hospital, or in one that involved a surgeon who had been his Senior Registrar. Experts on the other side met the full force of a formidable intellect and combative character, teamed with Wendy meticulously recording each exchange, made for a truly formidable combination.

Sadly very ill for the last two years of his life, Philip was assiduously cared for by Wendy. Family was the balancing pillar to his professional life – John, Philippa and Sarah. A Northern man of the people and for the people and especially people with colorectal diseases; for which he wanted the best intellectual endeavour, the best trained surgeons and the the best professional structures to improve patient care. A kind man and a generous man, whether writing letters home for an illiterate airman in the RAF, or driving across town to the Monsall Fever Hospital to rescue colitics or with Wendy sitting a trainee down to Sunday dinner (Yorkshire pudding always served first) – he was always there to give of himself to any patient or colleague that required his help. Those of us who were lucky enough to work with him, or be advised by him, were privileged. He is missed.