Obituary: Dr Brian Chapman, physician who was instrumental in developing care for the elderly in Edinburgh

Born: 28 January, 1956, in Edinburgh. Died: 9 February, 2012, in Edinburgh, aged 56.

Brian Chapman was a geriatrician and general physician who made an outstanding contribution to the development of hospital services for frail older people in Edinburgh.

Born in the city in 1956, he was educated at Daniel Stewart’s and Melville College, where he developed a passion for rugby union that was to remain with him for the rest of his life.

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After becoming Dux in 1975, he chose to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School, graduating with both an Honours BSc in biochemistry and his medical degree of MBChB. In his undergraduate years he met Dorothy, a fellow medical student, and they became engaged while on elective together in South Africa, and married shortly after their graduation.

Brian’s postgraduate training began in 1981 in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, where he was to spend the majority of his professional career. Like many of his peers, he was initially uncertain of his choice of specialty, but a senior geriatrician of the time appreciated a particularly astute diagnosis that he had made, and encouraged him to consider a career in geriatric medicine.

Brian was appointed as a consultant and senior lecturer in geriatric medicine to the old Royal Infirmary in 1989, initially as the sole consultant for the specialist in-patient service there. The foundations of the service in the hospital had been laid by Professor James Williamson and continued by Dr Roger Smith, but Brian totally transformed the small service he inherited.

At the time of his appointment there were only 16 beds available for the care of frail, older patients, and doubts existed in the minds of some of the more traditional physicians of the day about the value of or need for a specialist geriatric medicine service. However, through a combination of clinical excellence, effective leadership and persistent, calm and reasoned negotiation with others, Brian ensured that the service developed dramatically – such that when the Royal Infirmary relocated to the Little France campus in 2002, the geriatric medicine and stroke unit opened as the largest in-patient specialty unit, with more than 100 beds and seven consultants. Additionally, in his role as clinical director for Older People’s Services, he influenced many other developments of benefit to older patients across all acute hospitals in Lothian.

Brian relished many other professional responsibilities, including roles as principal medical adviser to Scottish Widows; Fellow and examiner for the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh; as an adviser in matters relating to the care of older people to NHS Lothian and the Scottish Government; and as honorary secretary to the Scottish branch of the British Geriatric Society, by whom he was awarded the President’s Medal for outstanding personal contribution in 2010.

His colleagues envied his role with the St Andrew’s Ambulance Association – he enjoyed the privilege of attending Scotland rugby internationals at Murrayfield in exchange for providing advice on the care of spectators who might become unwell.

Family life was of tremendous importance to him. Until his death, Brian remained a constant source of support to his mother, June, and brother, Paul. He and Dorothy, who were to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary this year, raised three children, Andrew, Fiona and Gavin, all of whom followed in their parents’ footsteps to study medicine.

Outside work and family, Brian was committed to the service of the Palmerston Place Church – the church of his childhood – where he was session clerk and latterly communion elder.

Diagnosed with carcinoma of the kidney in 2006, Brian faced his illness with a level of courage and dignity that moved all who knew him. He spoke openly of his diagnosis, yet never sought sympathy; he worked on in his clinical and other roles for as long as he could, and throughout the entire period continued to demonstrate the personal qualities that distinguished him during his entire career – a desire and ability to listen to others, understand their problems and provide help if he could.

He will be deeply missed by his many colleagues in Edinburgh, Scotland and beyond but leaves behind a substantial legacy of many new young consultants who were directly influenced by him and have chosen to follow a career in his specialty of geriatric medicine, and in strong, effective and flourishing hospital services for the frail older people of Edinburgh.

Andrew Elder, Nicki Colledge and Andrew Coull