David Lionel Gullick

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 31 January 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:283
  1. John Havard

    David Gullick had been head of school and captain of rugby at Taunton school before he went to Guy’s, where he played rugby to a high standard for its XV, one of the best of the well known of the teams in the hospitals cup. After joining a general practice in Stevenage, he helped to found its rugby club and qualified as a referee, after which he officiated on most Saturday afternoons during the season. But his active participation in the game that he loved so much came to a premature end in the mid-1950s, when he was stricken by rheumatoid arthritis with painful and debilitating swelling of his joints, which he bore with typical stoicism, and had to endure for the rest of his life.

    In 1958, when he could no longer continue in general practice, he applied for the post of medical assistant secretary on the headquarters staff of the BMA, to which he was appointed from an exceptionally large field of more than 60 applicants. For the next 20 years he commuted almost daily to Tavistock Square, but he was never heard to complain about the discomfort that this must have caused him. David had begun to take an active interest in BMA activities as soon as he entered general practice and he was elected to several committees at both local and national levels. Between 1949 and 1958 he represented his division at every annual representatives’ meeting (ARM).

    On joining the BMA staff he was given responsibility for a number of central committees and working groups, all of which greatly valued greatly the high quality of the advice that he gave them. But he was a quiet man and most reluctant to offer advice unless pressed to do so. In those days the BMA staff was managed on an “old boy” basis. Writing in World Medicine in1975, when the BMA’s loss of membership had been catastrophic and its finances were in crisis, the influential medical journalist Michael O’Donnell noted that its staff “had to struggle against the odds to keep the organisation running smoothly while they themselves were having to endure a style of management best described as ‘Early Primitive Feudal.’” And so it remained, with little change, until the 1980s, by which time David and many of his colleagues on the staff had moved on to employment with other organizations.

    By 1976 the existing secretary of the BMA had been in post for more than 18 years. David, whose capacity for hard work and skill at mastering political detail was widely admired, was an obvious contender for the succession. But word got out that the BMA “establishment” had planned to fill, without advertisement, what was then regarded as one of the most important positions in British medicine. When the dust had settled, and the post was advertised, David applied for it. But he was not appointed. Meanwhile he had served with considerable distinction as secretary to the two most important committees in the BMA, representing NHS general practitioners and consultants, respectively. The former had as its chairman Sir James (“Jim”) Cameron, with whom David formed a close and effective partnership, so much so that it was David who was chosen to give the address at Jim’s memorial service.

    David’s time as secretary of the hospital consultants’ committee was by far the most turbulent period of his career. The general election of 1974 had returned a Labour government with Barbara Castle as secretary of state for health. She was determined to “phase out” private beds in NHS hospitals, which had long been the policy of the party, strongly supported by the health service unions. The consultants were just as determined that this should not be allowed to happen.

    The ensuing confrontation was long and bitter, and it was David’s responsibility to provide the many services needed by the profession’s negotiators. This task he performed superbly. But it involved David in very many long meetings, often well into the night, with the consultant negotiators, Barbara Castle, and Lord Goodman (whom Harold Wilson had asked to seek a solution), as well as the drafting of endless position papers. The workload placed on him was merciless. Characteristically, David never complained, although it became obvious to his colleagues that it was making him ill, though not apparently to his employers in the form of the BMA “establishment,” as little was done to relieve the intolerable strain placed on him.

    Perhaps it was just as well that David decided in 1977, by which time a compromise in the pay beds dispute had effectively been reached, to retire early from his post as deputy secretary of the BMA and to take on the post of company secretary and executive medical adviser to BUPA. In his new role he did much in the years left to him before his final retirement to bring about closer collaboration between the provident societies and the BMA.

    Such was David’s modesty and his reluctance to talk about himself that few of his colleagues were aware of the extent of his knowledge and achievements. His remarkable memory had become evident when he reached the semi-final rounds of the “Brain of Britain” contest in 1961. He travelled extensively as secretary of the BMA’s overseas committee during the 1960s when its Commonwealth branches in developing countries had to deal with the consequences of independence. He had a particular interest in medicolegal issues, and was secretary of the BMA’s joint committee with the legal profession on medical evidence in courts of law. It must have given him great satisfaction when his son Stephen was appointed a crown court judge in 1998 and honorary recorder of Bradford in 2002.

    David was an accomplished campanologist and rang his first peal at St Ippolyts in 1952. Soon afterwards a bell rope caught his foot, which was protruding slightly over the edge of the ringing box on which he was standing, and he was thrown violently across the ringing chamber, landing heavily on the floor. Refusing all help he announced that he had dislocated his shoulder and drove himself to the house of a doctor friend to have it set. Years later, in 1991, he wrote an article on bell ringing injuries, published in the BMJ, in which he concluded that bell ringing, although potentially dangerous, was probably no more dangerous than many other pursuits. David, who helped to inaugurate the Guild of Medical Ringers from its foundation in 1955, was its first secretary until 1976 and later its president.

    He first met his wife, Evelyn, a nurse, when their eyes met over a wartime operating table in 1943, and they were married in Southwark Cathedral the same year. David died in February last year, aged 87, after a short illness. In March a quarter peal of 1260 Grandsire Triples was rung in his memory at Huntsham, Devon, by the Guild of Medical Ringers. He is survived by his two sons, Michael and Stephen, and by Stephen’s sons, Matthew and Daniel.


    • Former deputy secretary BMA (b 7 August 1919; q Guy’s Hospital, London, 1943), died from chest infection, heart failure, and rheumatoid arthritis on 16 February 2007.

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