Professor Gavin Arneil
Helensburgh man was an internationally renowned expert on child health and co-founder of the Scottish Cot Death Trust
February 10, 2018 – PROFESSOR Gavin C Arneil, who has died aged 94, was a hugely influential paediatrician and internationally renowned expert on child health known for his work at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children at Yorkhill over 41 years.
He was also a campaigner on cot death and co-founder of the Scottish Cot Death Trust and a president of the International Paediatric Association, an organisation that includes 170 countries and nearly all the children’s doctors in the world. He was the only British doctor in the first 100 years to have held the post.
Professor Arneil was a founding member of Friends of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and a long-serving member of the executive committee, chaired by Hannah Stirling.
He served as honorary president following in the footsteps of Sir Robert Grieve and Tom Weir. He also served on the Secretary of States’ working party on Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and for 11 years on the Loch Lomond Park Authority, the predecessor of the National Park.
Born in Glasgow in 1923, Gavin’s father was a senior lecturer and his mother a teacher. He went to school at Jordanhill College school and in 1940-45 was a medical student at Glasgow University. He was a member of the Home Guard at the same time and was known to take a rifle to school. He then served as a major for three years on emergency service in the Royal Army Medical Corp.
After graduating, he began work at Yorkhill and over the decades at the hospital, treated over 30,000 children in his ward and thousands more in outpatients, saving the lives of many children suffering from kidney disease.
Very active at the hospital, he chaired the committee which in 1967 moved Yorkhill into Oakbank as an emergency, and on the rebuild of the hospital he chaired the committee which commissioned the new RHSC Yorkhill in 1971. In 1983 he co-founded the Yorkhill Children’s Trust, the first of its kind in Scotland which raised funds for scanners and other equipment for children and has raised in excess of £12million.
In 1950 he started the first unit in Europe specialising in all aspects of children’s kidney disease. Research included the first European use of cortisone, prednisolone and thiazides and doctors came from all over the world to learn. In 1967 Professor Arneil also got together with doctors from both Eastern and Western Europe and founded the European Society of Paediatric Nephrology, and took great pleasure in speaking at the opening ceremony of its 50th anniversary meeting in Glasgow in 2017. This led to the establishment of the International Paediatric Nephrology Association (IPNA) which now includes more than 100 countries providing expert doctors in kidney disease, who meet regularly and train doctors from developing countries.
Professor Arneil’s work with the International Paediatric Association involved travel to more than 50 countries, many with severe problems to solve. These included many countries behind the Iron curtain during the Cold War, Nigeria during the Biafran war, and Bosnia during the emergency. He eased out of his work in child health after his 80th birthday in 2004 but continued to be deeply interested.
In the 1970s, Professor Arneil became interested in cot death and the treatment of grieving parents. Off he went into the homes of bereaved families to get at the facts. Persuaded of the need for action he carried out surveys in Glasgow and in 1981-82 in Scotland. This last was the first to show the danger of laying babies on their front as well as smoking, sharing the parents’ bed and so on. In 1985 he co-founded the Scottish Cot Death Trust. This provided a counselling service for all bereaved parents, offered a monitor if wished for all subsequent babies, and has raised £3million pounds and funded research in Scotland, England, Ireland and elsewhere. This all contributed to cot deaths being halved in the community.
Professor Arneil, who lived until recently in Helensburgh, received many honours during his career from abroad and at home. Outstanding were the Nobel medal of the Swedish Medical Association and the 1983 St Mungo Prize of the City of Glasgow. A number of institutions in Britain and abroad have given him an honorary award such as FRCP, FAAP, FRCPCH and so on.
On the lighter side he had a good sense of humour, sailed, golfed, gardened, once imported wine, quoted Burns and wrote poetry. He once even successfully treated a sick chimp in the Kelvin Hall Circus.
Professor Arneil is survived by his wife June, daughter Marion and grandsons Duncan and Lewis.
Born: March 7, 1923. Died: January 21, 2018