Obituaries

Mark Swerdlow

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.326.7396.987 (Published 03 May 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:987

An innovator in the treatment of pain

Mark Swerdlow was a pioneer in pain control and one of the founders of the Pain Society. As a consultant anaesthetist in Salford, he began to develop new ideas about the problems of pain control. He introduced into the United Kingdom many of the new anaesthetic nerve block techniques for pain treatment that had been initiated during the second world war and developed them. The pain relief clinic that he established in Salford in 1959 was one of the first in Britain; he remained its director until his retirement 21 years later.

In 1967 he founded the Intractable Pain Society of Great Britain, later renamed the Pain Society; he was elected chairman in 1971 and was later made one of the society's handful of honorary members. In 1975, he was a founder member of the International Association for the Study of Pain, which, like the British Society, subsequently elected him as an honorary member.

He wrote or edited several books on pain relief, notably Relief of Intractable Pain, which went through four editions from 1974 to 1989. From 1972 to 1988 he was a visiting professor at numerous universities in the United States, Europe, and Israel.


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When he retired in 1980 he began a new career as a consultant for the World Health Organization, which recruited him to launch a new cancer pain relief programme. He assembled a small group of international specialists and together they developed the hugely influential WHO analgesic ladder method for treatment of cancer pain. First published by WHO in 1986, it had been translated into 15 languages within two years. From 1981 to 1987 he travelled widely, advising national ministries on policies and practising clinicians on methods.

He was in the army from 1943 to 1948, serving in Normandy, where he became fluent in French, and took part in the liberation of the concentration camps, which affected him deeply. He was an accomplished artist and assiduous violinist who played in quartets. Six weeks before his death he was diagnosed as having a brain tumour, but he remained intellectually unimpaired and died shortly after taking a walk with friends. He was an enthusiastic and passionately moral man with laughter lines around his eyes; unpushy, he quietly got on with doing things. He leaves a wife, Elizabeth, and three children.

Mark Swerdlow, consultant anaesthetist Salford Royal Hospital, director North West Regional Pain Relief Centre, and adviser World Health Organization Cancer Unit (b 1 August 1918; q Manchester 1942; MD, FFARCS, DA), d 26 February 2003.

[Caroline Richmond]

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