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Biographical entry Schofield, Philip Furness (1930 - 2012)

MB ChB Manchester 1955; MD 1962; FRCS 1963; FRCS Edin.

23 January 1930
Huddersfield, Yorkshire
18 March 2012
Colorectal surgeon


Philip Schofield was a colorectal surgeon in Manchester. There is a belief, that has some foundation, that northern surgeons of Schofield's era were a special breed, who were hard working, tough, decisive, technically competent and highly experienced. If so, he was a prime example of such surgeons who, in his case, also commanded affection, respect and admiration for his intellectual honesty, in equal measure.

Born in Huddersfield, the only child of an industrial chemist, he attended the local grammar school and, on leaving school, somewhat surprisingly for someone with his undoubted intellectual abilities, became a professional rugby league player. Although his personal and physical qualities would have guaranteed a highly successful sporting career, this was interrupted by National Service in the RAF. At the end of conscription he crossed the Pennines to enter Manchester Medical School and began a career that was to be based entirely in Lancashire. There he met and married Wendy, a fellow doctor, who was to be the rock upon which his successful family life and surgical career was built and sustained.

His surgical training in Manchester led him to gain his fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1962 and of the English College in 1963. He then commenced his lifetime interest in colorectal disease, writing his MD on Crohn's disease. It was in the course of this research that he demonstrated the essential role of the terminal ileum in the absorption of vitamin B12 and the requirement for lifetime B12 injections to prevent megaloblastic anaemia in patients who had undergone terminal ileal resection. On the basis of this work he gained a Hunterian professorship in 1964.

A year in the United States as the John M Wilson memorial scholar at the Cleveland Clinic allowed him to work with Rupert B Turnbull Jr, one of the international doyens of colorectal surgery. His consultant career in Manchester followed a somewhat unusual path, commencing with an appointment to Ashton-under-Lyne Hospital in 1969. This was followed by a move to Trafford General Hospital, and from there he transferred to the University Hospital of South Manchester in 1976, an appointment which included clinical sessions at the famous Christie Hospital. It was through this latter connection that he was able to pursue his interest in complex pelvic surgery, working in partnership with his urological and gynaecological colleagues. In addition he took advantage of the Paterson laboratories to explore the basic science aspects of his specialty and, with colleagues and research fellows, he produced over 200 original papers and chapters on topics ranging from the flow cytometry characteristics of colorectal cancers, to the management of carcinomas involving the vagina. A notable and treatment-changing randomised trial of preoperative radiotherapy in the management of rectal cancer conducted with Roger James, a radiotherapist, received international acclaim ('Adjuvant preoperative radiotherapy for locally advanced rectal carcinoma. Results of a prospective, randomized trial' Dis Colon Rectum. 1994 Dec;37[12]:1205-14).

His enthusiasm for innovative practical surgery led to him developing new approaches such as the creation of a myocutaneous flap, which could be used in the one stage management of difficult problems such as complex perineal fistulae.

He demonstrated equal passion for teaching, particularly postgraduate trainees, specifically at the operating table. His reputation in both these aspects led to him being invited as a visiting professor and lecturer all over the world. In 1984 he was elected a member of the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons. Notably, he was invited to deliver the prestigious William C Bernstein memorial lecture in Minneapolis in 1994. Similar accolades followed at home, when he was appointed first as honorary reader and then visiting professor of surgery at Manchester University. He was president of the section of surgery of Manchester Medical Society, president of both the section of surgery and the section of coloproctology of the Royal Society of Medicine, and president of the North of England Gastroenterology Society. However, the accolade he most savoured was his appointment in 1992 as president of the Association of Coloproctology of Great Britain and Ireland, a society he and a nucleus of others had campaigned to establish in order to put the sub-specialty on an independent footing.

Philip Schofield also recognised the importance of surgeons being involved in administration and policy making, and not just sitting back and blaming management when administrative matters went wrong. He allowed himself to be put forward for leadership roles in this aspect of health services management, and as a result successively chaired medical executive committees, the regional sub-committee for surgery, and the north west regional committee for hospital medical services. He showed similar dedication to the administration of surgical education, being chairman of the board of the primary FRCS examiners, chairman of the north western regional specialist training committee, a member of the presidential board of surgical specialties of the Royal College of Surgeons, and a member of the specialist advisory committee in general surgery. Learning from his experiences in the United States, he set up with others the acclaimed M62 training course in coloproctology.

When retirement eventually came in 1995 he turned his talents to the taxing task of providing medico-legal reports, at which he excelled. He built up a huge national practice as an expert witness. Just as he forged high standards of care in clinical coloproctology, so he campaigned for high standards of report writing in medico-legal practice. In 1997 he set up, with the Royal Society of Medicine, a report writing training day at the Law Society. This was the first step in the now accepted principle that doctors needed training if they were to become expert witnesses in medico-legal cases. It was whilst writing the opinion section of such a report on 12 February 2010 that he suffered a massive stroke. His formidable constitution and the devoted and tender care of Wendy and his three children meant that he lived for a further two years, before dying peacefully on 18 March 2012, aged 82.

Sir Miles Irving

The Royal College of Surgeons of England