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Biographical entry Forrest, Duncan Mouat (1922 - 2004)

MRCS and FRCS 1951, MB ChB New Zealand 1946, LRCP 1951.

19 December 1922
New Zealand
2 December 2004
Paediatric surgeon


Duncan Forrest was a distinguished member of that first generation of paediatric surgeons, most of whom trained at Great Ormond Street in the early years of the National Health Service, who pioneered specialist surgical units in children’s and in general hospitals across the country. Later in life he was to put the same enthusiasm and dedication into caring for the victims of torture.

He was born on 19 December 1922 in New Zealand into a medical family. His father died when he was six and he was educated at a boarding school. He went on to Otago University, where he qualified in 1946 and then travelled to England to specialise in surgery, working his passage as a ship’s doctor.

After junior posts at St George’s and gaining his fellowship in 1951, he went to Great Ormond Street as an able young surgeon whose faultless good manners barely concealed his passionate determination to develop and apply his surgical skills for the benefit of children with major congenital disorders.

Unlike most of his contemporaries he was inspired not so much by the work of Denis Browne and his team, but by George Macnab, who was treating hydrocephalus by diversionary shunts, a treatment pioneered in the USA by Holter, which had so far been little employed by British neurosurgeons. Duncan soon developed considerable expertise in these procedures and when, following the completion of his training, he was appointed to the Westminster Children’s Hospital, to Sydenham Children’s Hospital and to Queen Mary’s Carshalton, although taking on a wide range of surgery with an interest in cleft palate in particular, he made hydrocephalus and spina bifida his main concern. It takes an element of idealism to pursue the management of some of these most severely disabled children, but this was a quality which Duncan possessed, fortunately modified by a shrewdness to perceive what was and what was not possible. He created at Carshalton a centre with an international reputation and contributed largely to the literature. He went on to distinguish himself as president of the British Association of Paediatric Surgeons and of the section of paediatrics of the Royal Society of Medicine.

From early in life he had been deeply involved in human rights issues and had campaigned with Amnesty International against torture. He became a senior medical examiner for the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, examining many survivors, and travelling all over the world seeking evidence of the cruel treatment of Sikhs in Punjab, Kurds in Iraq, and prisoners in Israel, Egypt and Guantanamo Bay. He wrote extensively on these and allied topics, culminating in the textbook Guidelines for the examination of survivors of torture (Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, 1995 and 2000).

He was predeceased by his wife June, a former actress who became a nurse. He died on 2 December 2004, leaving a daughter (Alison) and three sons (Ian, William and Paul).

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Guardian 15 December 2004].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England