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Biographical entry May, Peter Cameron (1947 - 2008)

MRCS LRCP 1971; MB BS London 1971; FRCS 1977.

1 January 1947
7 July 2008
Orthopaedic surgeon, Paediatric orthopaedic surgeon and Trauma surgeon


Peter May was a consultant orthopaedic and trauma surgeon at the Princess Royal Hospital, Telford. He specialised in children's orthopaedics, foot and ankle surgery, the shoulder and rheumatoid arthritis.

He hailed from the West Country, where he attended Torquay Boys' Grammar School and then studied medicine at King's College London and Westminster Medical School, qualifying in 1971. He was good at sports, particularly rugby and hurdling, and in his youth had won a gold Duke of Edinburgh's Award. After early jobs in Southampton and Plymouth, he passed the primary fellowship and moved into orthopaedics, always his first love, first at the Prince of Wales Orthopaedic Hospital in Cardiff, where he passed the final FRCS in 1977, and then in Southampton and Bath. In 1975 he spent some months in the Middle East to gain extra experience, and in 1984 won a travel and research scholarship to study paediatric surgery at the Toronto Sick Children's Hospital. This stimulated his special interest in paediatric orthopaedics, which remained throughout his life.

He was appointed consultant orthopaedic surgeon in 1989 to the new Princess Royal Hospital in Telford before it had officially opened and enthusiastically set about developing a new unit with the help of two other newly appointed colleagues. Owing to the effects of reduced hours of work for trainees, he lacked the support of junior staff for much of the time and therefore worked extraordinarily long hours. He initiated a trauma rota with his two colleagues, such that every third week he covered trauma exclusively, leaving the elective orthopaedics to others. This was an early example of a practice which has now become commonplace.

In Telford he was known for his desire to maintain high standards, for he cared deeply about the welfare of his patients. He abhorred bureaucracy; Government targets, performance indicators, and especially joint waiting lists, which were anathema to him. His concern for high standards of care and good outcomes did not make him an enthusiast for day surgery, as can be surmised from the title of one of his papers 'Is day care good care?' Robust in argument and with strongly held views, he did not always endear himself. He loved writing lengthy provocative letters (known as 'Petergrams'), which were sometimes thought exasperating, but they always highlighted genuine concerns about patient care. When the Internet arrived, he took to it with enthusiasm and loved experimenting with different colours and multiple typefaces and sizes such that some of his lengthy emails appeared to be modern works of art! Jargon was another dislike; he considered blue-sky thinking should be restricted to walks in his beloved West Country!

In his early 40s, against fierce competition from others more senior, Peter was comfortably elected to the Royal College of Surgeons' council in 1993 and served diligently for two terms, demitting office in 2005. He was especially active on the RCS training board, becoming chairman of the hospital recognition committee and making many visits of inspection at hospitals throughout the country. He was ahead of his time in arguing for regionalisation of RCS activities at a time when its activities were exclusively London- based. Indeed, he argued that the College building itself would be better based in Birmingham or Manchester, but in this he failed to persuade council.

Peter was blessed with a loving and supportive family. Married to Jan, they had three sons Jonathan, Daniel and Nathan.

He died suddenly at home on 7 July 2008, aged 61.

Sir Barry Jackson
Bruce Summers

The Royal College of Surgeons of England