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Biographical entry Poole-Wilson, Denis Smith (1904 - 1998)

CBE 1968; MRCS and FRCS 1931; BA Dublin 1926; MB BCh BAO 1928; MCh 1934; FRCSI 1934.

22 March 1998


Denis Poole-Wilson, a consultant surgeon at Salford, was an outstanding urologist of the post-war years, whose pupils went on to staff many of the most successful departments. He began by transforming the situation in Manchester. By demonstrating that treatment, especially for cancer, could be more effectively administered in his own specialist unit, he persuaded the teaching hospital and the regional board of the benefits of specialisation. He went on to play an important part in the national programme to develop urological units.

He was born in Dublin in 1904, the son of parents in the teaching profession. He read natural sciences at Trinity College, winning the gold medal, and then went to the Middlesex Hospital Medical School to complete his clinical training. He qualified in 1928 and in 1930 took his first post in Manchester, under Geoffrey Jefferson, the neurosurgeon at the Salford Royal Hospital. But it was his experience in his next post, under J B MacAlpine, a pioneer in endoscopic urology, that helped determine the progress of his career. As surgeon from 1934 to the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital and to the Salford Royal Hospital, he became known for his expertise in urology.

In 1939, as a member of the Reserve, he was called up immediately after the outbreak of the war. A Lieutenant Colonel in the RAMC, he commanded the surgical division of the 72nd General Hospital with the 8th Army, serving in North Africa and Italy, including the Monte Cassino battle. His specialist skills were recognised when he formed a unit for genito-urinary injuries in Naples and then in Rome. The 100 bed unit was affectionately known as 'Poole's Piss Palace'.

In 1945, he returned to Manchester to take over from MacAlpine as a specialist urologist. The nature and management of genito-urinary injuries was the subject of his Hunterian Professorial lecture in 1946. In the next year, he was appointed to the staff of the Christie Hospital and Holt Radium Institute, where he gained enormous experience of bladder cancer and other malignancies. His unit, then covering four hospitals, rapidly expanded and attracted a series of brilliant trainees. They remember Poole-Wilson as an inspiring teacher but a hard taskmaster who spared neither them nor himself. He was President of the British Association of Urological Surgeons from 1965 to 1966 and was appointed CBE in 1968.

He retired to a Wiltshire village in 1969, where he lived on into old age, although he became increasingly blind. He died on 22 March 1998. He and his wife Monique, who predeceased him, had two sons, Nicholas and Philip, one of whom is a Professor of Cardiology. There are five grandchildren - Peter, Alexander, William, Michael and Oenone.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Daily Telegraph 27 April 1998, with portrait; BMJ 1998 317 84, with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England