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Biographical entry Scobie, Donald John ( - 2015)

BSc Strathclyde 1968; MB ChB Glasgow 1973; FRCS Glasgow 1978; FRCS Edin 1979; FRCS 1980.

18 June 2015
General surgeon


Donald John Scobie was a consultant surgeon in Oban, Scotland from 1986 to 2012. He qualified at Glasgow University Medical School in 1973 and had an extensive and varied general surgical training, initially in the west of Scotland and thereafter in specialist units further afield. He particularly valued posts at the Birmingham Accident Hospital and in Liverpool as a senior registrar where, in the 1980s, he gained wide experience in urology, vascular and transplant surgery.

This experience was all utilised when he was appointed as a consultant surgeon to the West Highland Hospital in Oban - initially single handed - where he transformed the range and complexity of surgical services offered to the local population. He was an exceptionally skilled surgeon and accurate diagnostician, and the range of surgery he offered, performed to a very high standard and with few complications, was very unusual in a hospital of this size; it obviated the need for many patients to travel to Glasgow for major surgery.

He frequently worked very long hours, which were not always universally appreciated by his nursing and medical colleagues, but usually tolerated with good humour as it was clear he had the patients' interests at heart. He recognised he was fortunate in the particularly high standard of nursing in the West Highland Hospital and then in the Lorn and Islands District General Hospital (LIDGH) (the current hospital in Oban, the result of an amalgamation of several smaller hospitals in the area), without which his working life would have been much harder.

Universally known as 'Mr Scobie' - the staff and he would have been uncomfortable with 'Donald' - the vast majority of the hospital staff with whom he worked for many years, particularly nursing, clerical and radiography, held him with great affection and respect, despite his variable timekeeping and occasional irascibility; this did not usually last long, and he would absorb the local news from staff whilst appearing not to be too interested, along with any new jokes, which he could never remember in their entirety. Very careful with money - both his own and the NHS's - he was quite unmaterialistic; the hospital car park was latterly host to a succession of ageing cars in various states of serviceability.

These long working hours incorporated regular clinics in Lochgilphead, Campbeltown, Mull and Islay, where he enjoyed meeting patients; he also endeavoured to foster good working relationships with the GPs in these areas as well as in north Argyll, which he regarded as important for patient care, and endeavoured to be available to give advice over the phone. As he developed and expanded the service, due to Mr Scobie's reputation many people from these areas opted to go to Oban for their surgery rather than Glasgow. He was also held in high regard by the consultants in the specialist units in Glasgow and Edinburgh to whom he referred cases. Teaching, albeit somewhat unstructured, was an important part of his work - many junior doctors gained unusually wide experience with him, particularly if they had a sense of humour. Regular medical student attachments from Dundee and Glasgow universities were also established.

He was ahead of his time in many respects; due to his extensive reading to keep up to date and previous surgical experience, he knew for many years prior to the opening of the LIDGH that, despite the already good and safe services, the radiology and anaesthetic departments would require development and expansion, and it gave him particular satisfaction that this happened whilst he was still in post. He also encouraged the development of nurse practitioners with whom he worked closely. There had been longstanding mutual respect and support between the surgical service and the consultant physicians in Oban, which was maintained at the LIDGH. Medical politics and management did not interest him; his contributions however, primarily at a local level, significantly shaped the surgical service at the LIDGH.

Despite onerous clinical commitments, including being on-call every second weekend for many years, he found time for charitable fundraising via a trust fund overseen by local solicitors; he initiated a scanner appeal, which raised enough money to buy Oban's first ultrasound machine. The fundraising continued and, in large part due to the generosity of the North British Hotels Trust, funds were secured for the purchase of the CT scanner currently in use at the LIDGH and now regarded as a basic requirement in most hospitals.

He had many interests outside medicine, including classical music, literature, art, climbing, sailing, skiing and cycling, which he had too little time to enjoy whilst working, and sadly also in retirement. Much to many people's surprise, however, he did become more IT literate after he left the LIDGH. Although he did not enjoy west coast winters and looked forward to holidays in sunshine, he took great enjoyment from being on his croft in Benderloch, where he was surrounded by the nature and the wildlife in which he took such an interest.

Donald Scobie died on 18 June 2015 after much too short a retirement. Survived by his widow Emma and his brothers, David, Ian and Alistair, he will be remembered as an excellent, dedicated surgeon with great humanity, to whom many people in Argyll owe their lives.

Emma Scobie

The Royal College of Surgeons of England