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Biographical entry Gibberd, George Frederick (1902 - 1976)

CBE 1962; MRCS 1923; FRCS 1927; MB BS London 1924; MS 1926; MRCOG 1933; FRCOG 1940; LRCP 1923.

18 April 1902
18 August 1976
Obstetrician and gynaecologist


George Frederick Gibberd was born on 18 April 1902 and grew up in Dulwich. He was educated at Haberdashers' Aske's School and Guy's Hospital and qualified in 1923. He became MS (London) in 1926 and FRCS in 1927 and a member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1933. He was elected a Fellow in 1940. After house appointments in surgery at Guy's he began his obstetric career as house surgeon at the City of London Maternity Hospital, where much of the emergency obstetrics was reminiscent of the last century. In 1925 he returned to Guy's as registrar in obstetrics and gynaecology and in 1931 was appointed to the consultant staff. He was appointed also to the staff of St John's Hospital, Lewisham, but gave this up when he was elected to the staffs of Queen Charlotte's Hospital and of the Samaritan Hospital for Women.

Gibberd's contribution to obstetrics was enormous. In 1928 he and Arnold Walker became the first two advisers in obstetrics to the Ministry of Health. They investigated the circumstances of 6000 maternal deaths for the departmental committee on mortality and morbidity which was set up by Neville Chamberlain. The maternal mortality at that time was 4.4 per 1000 births (it is now 0.17). They found a 'primary avoidable factor' in 46% of cases, and their reports of 1930 and 1932 were the forerunners of the confidential inquiries into maternal deaths which are published now every three years. He was in clinical charge of the new isolation block at Queen Charlotte's until 1939. There he worked on puerperal sepsis with Leonard Colebrook, and in 1936 established the efficiency of sulphonamides. As a result the mortality of streptococcal infection fell from 22.6% to 5.5%. Gibberd learnt the dangers of sepsis from unnecessary intervention in obstetrics and he practised a conservative approach all of his professional life. He was particularly interested in toxaemia of pregnancy and wrote several important papers on the condition, stressing the clinical course and the importance of induction of labour in its management. Using a toy balloon he made observations on the pattern of breathing in the newborn which led to a deeper understanding of asphyxia neonatorum. With J B Blaikley (qv) he designed an apparatus for the resuscitation of asphyxiated newborn babies.

In 1938 he succeeded Sir William Fletcher Shaw as honorary secretary of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. He remained in this office until 1947, but served in the RAMC during the war. He served on the Council of the College and many important subcommittees almost without a break for 25 years from 1936 to 1961 and was elected Vice-President in 1958. In 1952 he became the first Sims-Black Travelling Professor and went to Australia and New Zealand. He was a member of the Cranbrook Committee on Maternity Services and of the Medical Advisory Committee of the University Grants Committee. He was made CBE in 1962 in recognition of his services to obstetrics.

As a bedside teacher Fred Gibberd was supreme. His weekly ward round at Guy's was always packed with students delighting in the logical way in which he assembled the facts of a case and presented them in so orderly a fashion that the diagnosis and treatment became obvious. His Short textbook of midwifery was published in 1938 and went through many editions thereafter. He was a magnificent raconteur and excelled in telling of worthies on the staff of Guy's Hospital in the days when such were 'honoraries' of a prestige only equalled by their eccentricity, always prepared to listen to a request for help, he was a man to whom juniors turned for advice on personal problems and to whom colleagues referred difficult cases. He was universally loved and admired.

He married Margaret Erica in 1930 and they had a daughter and two sons, one of whom is a neurologist. He died on 18 August 1976, aged 74 years.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1976, 2, 821 and 953].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England