Obituary: Dr Hugh Miller, 70

Dr Hugh Miller. Picture: Contributed
Dr Hugh Miller. Picture: Contributed
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A CLINICAL cardiologist who worked tirelessly to turn one of the key units at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary into a world-class service has died.

Dr Hugh Miller, who was responsible for the world’s first clinical trial of artificial heart valves, turned the hospital’s department of cardiology into a unit renowned for expert patient care, teamwork and training.

Practices such as one-stop outpatient clinics, day-case investigation and treatment units, formal protocols for procedures and safety check-lists were pioneered by Hugh and ahead of their time.

The medical practitioner died from lymphoma at home in Edinburgh on February 26 at the age of 70.

Hugh was born into a close-knit East Lothian farming family and elected to study medicine at Edinburgh University. He was awarded a first-class honours degree in pharmacology, going on to qualify as a doctor in 1966.

The education earned him a coveted junior post at the ERI, with Hugh returning to the same wards as a consultant cardiologist in 1975 after extra training at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina and London’s Brompton Hospital. He quickly won admiration for his goal of providing the best possible service for patients.

The doctor’s interests lay in arrhythmias, electrophysiology and artificial cardiac pacing. He used that passion to introduce new treatments such as radio-frequency ablation to the National Health Service.

Hugh went as far as building some of the necessary equipment himself, with the help of in-house engineers and technicians, to cut costs.

His work during the Edinburgh Heart Valve Trial, first published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1991, proved particularly influential and was completed at minimal expense.

Teamwork was a key priority for Hugh, who insisted on being addressed by his first name. He also organised weekly staff meetings where colleagues could make suggestions of their own. He taught medical students, junior doctors and consultants in his role as educator.

He had the habit of reinforcing advice to colleagues with a collection of catchphrases. Among his favourites were “don’t be cavalier with other people’s time”; “do as I say, not as I do”; and “always tell the truth, then you won’t have to remember what you said”.

Hugh was president of the Scottish Cardiac Society from 1995-97 and a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh. He served on many important health bodies, including the joint committee on Higher Medical Training.

His dream of an active retirement never came to pass due to a freak mountain biking accident in the Highlands seven years ago. He was a husband to Isobel, father to Jamie and Catherine, and a grandfather to Fergus, Leo, Lucian and Frieda.