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Biographical entry London, Peter Stanford (1922 - 2015)

CStJ 1972; MBE 1951; MRCS LRCP 1944; MB BS London 1944; FRCS 1950; MFOM 1980; FACEM 1985.

30 April 1922
Mejillones, Chile
24 January 2015
Trauma surgeon


Peter London, known by all as 'PSL', was one of a group of far-sighted surgeons who believed fervently in improvements in the treatment and prognosis of victims of trauma. He led team three at the world's first trauma centre in Bath Row, Birmingham, known until 1974 as the Birmingham Accident Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre. Having established himself as a consultant with by then extensive experience of injury management, he wrote A practical guide to the care of the injured, etc (Edinburgh/London, E & S Livingstone, 1967), which became the bible for all junior surgeons passing through his unit and was written in classic PSL style of clarity and brevity. He became an imposing, upright, immaculately dressed and moustachioed speaker at numerous meetings both in the UK and worldwide, when his words always caught the attention of his audience. He introduced himself as 'London, Birmingham', to the amusement of those lucky enough to be present.

He was born on 30 April 1922 in Mejillones, Chile, the son of Cyril Stanford London, a locomotive engineer, and Ethel London née Barker, a housewife. After being a pupil at the King's School, Wimbledon, he preceded to St Thomas's for undergraduate training, qualifying in the summer of 1944 (a year early because of the Second World War) with a distinction in surgery. Following junior house appointments at St Thomas' Hospital, he did his National Service (from 1946 to 1948) in the Royal Air Force.

After leaving, he began working in trauma and was called out to retrieve a man whose leg had been crushed under a tank, which was very likely to collapse further and crush him as well. For this heroism he was awarded an MBE in 1951. For his continuing support of the Order of St John and advocacy of this cause and the advancement of first aid techniques, he was made a Commander of the Order (in 1972).

After his military service he gained his FRCS in 1950. Much later, in 1980, be became a member of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine and, in 1985, was made an honorary fellow of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine. He was a very strong supporter of the Medical Society of London and was an outstanding editor of their Transactions for many years.

In 1945 he married Alice Patricia Gerahty and they had three children, two sons (Nicholas Stanford and James Echlin Stanford) and one daughter (Philippa Echlin). Tragically, in 1977, his eldest son, Nick, fell during military training in the Brecon Beacons in Wales, rupturing his kidney and the emergency staff in the local hospital missed the diagnosis and tragically he bled to death. He was told of his son's death whilst presenting a lecture, but in typical style went on to complete it. His whole professional life had been directed to improvements in the management of the severely injured and the irony of this disaster undoubtedly and understandably had a serious impact on him and the rest of his family.

All those many surgeons who had the privilege of joining him on team three remember their time with both affection and respect for what he and they did and for the outstanding results his unit managed to achieve. There was an almost military atmosphere within the team and many of the registrars were indeed on secondment from the Army. Their roster was based on a three-week cycle and 24-hour days on 'take'. On a three-week cycle, this resulted in seven 24-hour periods on resident duty for all the housemen and women, senior house officers and registrars, with several of the intervening days used to clear the cases needing operating time, ward rounds, more definitive later surgery and out-patient follow up and fracture clinics. It was a busy and stimulating environment. It also defined a way of giving 24-hour cover for emergencies, with a dedicated team and continuity in the management of injured hospitalised cases, from the entrance through to out-patient follow up with the same team - not something replicated today. The roster itself resulted in more than 80-hour weeks in the hospital for the junior staff, something unthinkable under the present European Working Time Directive.

One of the idiosyncrasies of team three were the midnight suppers held on nights on call when the registrar would shop for a takeaway meal and Peter would supply one or two brown pharmacological two litre Winchester brown bottles of cider to complement the meal. It was extremely rare for a major incident to happen after midnight, so the meal allowed the team to discuss the 'take' of that day and learn lessons in a convivial environment. His colleague, Mike Porter, continued this tradition when he was heading the team.

He wrote extensively and was one of the founder editors of Injury, now a worldwide reference source on all aspects of trauma, helped enormously internationally by the support of one of his previous senior house officers, Ken Boffard, now emeritus professor of surgery in Johannesburg.

PSL managed to attract a wide circle of young surgeons with an interest in trauma, many from the Army, but others from all over the National Health Service. Sadly, his aspirations for a truly effective trauma care facility were ultimately thwarted, firstly because we in this country do not presently (and thankfully) experience the devastating effects of both low and particularly high velocity bullet wounds and because the number of road accidents has been substantially reduced by the introduction of seat belts and other safety measures.

Though now seriously out of date, his book still exemplifies how sensible logic and advice can make substantial inroads into the management of numerous injuries, giving victims the chance of active and productive long term futures. It needs updating and should be revised by a new generation of trauma surgeons.

He could at times appear somewhat aloof and distant, but beneath this was a man of considerable wit and humour with far-sighted ideas, which he promulgated in an academic fashion to the benefit of both the victims of trauma and society in general.

He died on 24 January 2015, aged 92. It was a great privilege to come to know him and work for him for six months and I regret sadly his death, albeit at a great age.

Peter Craig

The Royal College of Surgeons of England