Longer version

David Anthony Hilton Yates

Former consultant rheumatologist London (b 15 August 1930; q St Thomas’ Hospital Medical School, London, 1953; MD, FRCP), d 13 September 2004.

Tony Yates’ career spanned the development of rheumatology from its origins in the empirical field of physical medicine to its present position as a core constituent of general internal medicine. He was well equipped to have an influential role.

His father was a Thomas’ trained general practitioner and came from a family of brewers. On his mother’s side there was a strong Guy’s influence. His maternal grandfather, C H Fagge, was a Guy’s surgeon, and twice vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. In 1932 he presented on its behalf a ceremonial mace to the Australasian College of Surgeons on the occasion of their receiving a royal charter. Fagge’s great grandfather was John Hilton, renowned for his 18 lectures given under the title "Rest and Pain" 1860. With this pedigree Tony said it was "touch and go" whether he was sent to Guy’s or to St Thomas’ Hospital Medical School.

Having been evacuated to Australia in 1940 Yates came back to school in Norfolk and went on with an Old Greshamian bursary to St Thomas’ Hospital Medical School. There he was awarded the Lord Riddell medical scholarship, qualifying with honours in 1953. After national service in Kenya, Egypt, and the Suez Canal he proceeded to membership of the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1957, and was elected fellow in 1974. His rheumatological training began at St Thomas’, specialising in locomotor medicine with James Cyriax and electrodiagnosis with Philipe Bauwens. He also spent a year with Eric Bywaters and Allan Dixon at the Hammersmith Hospital for further training in systemic rheumatology.

He wrote papers on the spine, muscle, and neurophysiology, and his 1963 MD thesis for the University of London was titled "Unilateral sciatica with neurological involvement: a correlated clinical and electrodiagnostic study." In 1965 he won the council prize of the British Association of Physical Medicine for an original paper on "Epidural myelography—a pioneering technique for evaluating spine problems in the pre-axial tomography days."

In 1966 he was appointed consultant in charge of the department of physical medicine at St Thomas’ Hospital, a department that had been forged by the union of the two previous divisions whose main interests had been in electrodiagnosis and orthopaedic medicine. He remained in charge until 1990 when radical changes were making traditional standards and priorities in health care increasingly difficult to sustain. (Subsequent "reorganisations" led his successor as clinical director, the author of this paper, to part company with the administration in 1996). After leaving St Thomas’, Yates continued in private practice and was welcomed at St George’s Hospital, where his style conducting clinics and teaching was much appreciated. He remained there until he retired from clinical practice in 1999.

His administrative abilities were valued in many spheres. He was director of the school of physiotherapy at St Thomas’, consultant rheumatologist to King Edward VII Hospital, and honorary consultant adviser in rheumatology to the army. In the field of rheumatology he was president of the rheumatology and rehabilitation section of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1980 and gave his presidential address on spinal stenosis. He was president of the British Association for Rheumatology, the immediate predecessor of the British Society for Rheumatology, from 1982 to 1984, having been elected by popular support by the membership at a time when a strong need for clinical leadership was recognised. He contributed with his characteristically practical common sense to committees at the Royal College of Physicians and at South Thames Region.

Dr Yates held a special position in rheumatology and medicine. His years in Australia during the second world war, and his national service experience in the British Army in Kenya, Egypt, and the Suez Canal seemed to give him a perspective and a healthy scepticism of the politically driven fashion for change for its own sake. It was his special facility to apply this experience to the field of medicine—clinical, teaching, and administrative.

Tony was a perfectionist, widely experienced and very practical. He maintained a broad interest in medical locomotor disorders, particularly the application of electrodiagnosis to rheumatological problems. His advice to trainees on their research was held in high esteem and his teaching was in demand internationally. He was one of London’s most sought after opinions in clinical rheumatology and the demands for his services occupied a progressively increasing proportion of his time.

Tony Yates was affable, popular, and respected with many interests outside medicine. As a student he was a notable water polo and rugby football enthusiast, becoming president of the Rugby Football Club. He became an expert sailor with a yachtmaster’s qualification. After retirement he shared his time and skill with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. His horticulture was, like everything he did, meticulous, informed, and skilled. It is thus ironic that he met his death in a garden accident. It is unlikely there will be many more in his mould.

He leaves a wife, Jill; two sons, Tim and Ian; a daughter, Jackie; and seven grandchildren. [John A Mathews]