Thomas Boulton

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 03 August 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4285
  1. Penny Warren
  1. London
  1. penny.warren{at}

Modernising anaesthetist who helped found the Royal College of Anaesthetists

In 1950 Thomas Boulton joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in the “Malaysian emergency.” He was the only qualified anaesthetist between Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur and, although he had just six months’ training and was only 25, he became responsible for 6000 men. Boulton had toyed with becoming a GP but during the two years he spent at the British military hospital in Kamunting he found his true vocation.

The anaesthetic apparatus in the hospital required gas cylinders but one day, when floods cut off the railway and none were available, Boulton discovered the possibility of a different type of procedure—“draw over” anaesthesia.

Draw over anaesthesia drew in ambient air and it was possible to improvise with any kind of container—even a jam jar—to make a vaporiser (using room air rather than compressed gas as the carrier). This allowed safe anaesthesia in the absence of hospital equipment. Boulton’s enthusiasm for draw …

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