Obituary: Dr Alison Bigrigg, consultant gynaecologist

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Born: 26 September, 1958, in Cumbria. Died: 10 April, 2013, in Glasgow, aged 54

DR ALISON Bigrigg, consultant gynaecologist, founding director of Sandyford Sexual Health Services, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and past president of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, has died in Glasgow from leukaemia aged 54.

Her legacy includes the invention of Early Pregnancy Assessment Units, the development of a new medical specialty and career structure in community gynaecology, and the establishment of the internationally renowned Sandyford integrated sexual and reproductive health services operating throughout the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area.

Born in Cumbria, Alison grew up in Dorset and showed excellence at school in hockey and golf. She trained in general surgery and gynaecological oncology, and was appointed as consultant senior lecturer in obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Bristol in 1992, becoming the first graduate from Southampton Medical School to achieve that status.

While working as a registrar in Gloucester, Alison noticed the recurrent and distressing problem of women suffering from bleeding and pain in early pregnancy receiving haphazard and slow diagnosis and treatment. The solution, arrived at with her mentor Mike Read, was simple: an open access service with immediate scanning and medical attention allowed a rapid, sympathetic and efficient conclusion for such women. After publication on this approach in the British Medical Journal, it was adopted as the standard of care in 1991.Today, there are Early Pregnancy Assessment Units in most hospitals in the UK.

Alison would go on to apply the same principles of see, investigate and treat at one visit for women with abnormal menstrual bleeding, and smear abnormalities. It was, however, in her adopted Glasgow that Alison’s energy and passion found its most productive outlet as she was able to expand her commitment to accessible care and to addressing health inequalities across a wider platform.

Arriving first as director of family planning, Alison then founded and built the Sandyford service, initially from one central Glasgow clinic to nearly 20 sites, working with colleagues from other medical specialities to form an internationally recognised model for integrated reproductive health, community gynaecology and genitourinary medicine with principles of locally delivered open access services for women and men. She was director from 1994 to 2011, arrived as a single consultant but left as the leader of 17 supported by a multi-disciplinary team of nearly 250.

Alison chaired the Scottish lead clinicians in sexual health and was largely involved in the development and implementation of the first Scottish National Sexual Health Strategy – Respect and Responsibility – launched in 2005.

As president of the UK Faculty of Family Planning and Sexual Health (now Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare) and a council member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists from 2000 to 2005, Alison was able to drive the growth of the faculty (to now 16,000 members), but also to establish community gynaecology as an autonomous specialty with a distinct career pathway.

Alison was a consummate leader, visionary and strategist and in 2010 was recognised as Scottish Healthcare Manager of the Year by the Institute of Healthcare Management Scotland. Her all-round distinction in teaching, academic, clinical and political arenas was reflected in one of the youngest ever A-merit Consultant awards. Alison authored and published numerous clinical articles, wrote and edited books and presented at international and national conferences and meetings over many years.

Alison passionately believed in customer satisfaction, and had little tolerance of those who did not share and strive to deliver the same goals. Alison’s greatest source of pride was, however, her family. In her last weeks, she saw her daughter Charlotte captain Cambridge University Women’s Rugby team and her son Tom represent Scotland at bridge.

Alison firmly believed that women could have both a successful and full career as well as an undiluted family life and was a shining example of such. For many hundreds of women clinicians and managers, Alison has been a peerless role model.

Alison enjoyed participation in many sports, including running, skiing and squash. She completed her second marathon in Paris last year after a bone marrow transplant.

A qualified rugby coach herself and avid supporter of Glasgow Warriors, Alison took great satisfaction from their current success.

Since her retirement due to ill health, Alison had served on the Audience Council for BBC Scotland, but had also been lured back into the interface of medicine and management as the faculty commissioned her to undertake a fundamental strategic review. At the time of her death, it has just been adopted as the blueprint for the future of the speciality.

She is survived by husband James Browning, a medical entrepreneur; their two children and her mother Doreen.

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