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Why a 1940s medical committee should not be forgotten

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 18 August 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:360

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  1. Geoff Watts

    The British government is struggling to tackle public health issues and today's problems of social exclusion. But social medicine owes much to an almost forgotten committee of young radicals. Philip D'Arcy Hart, its secretary in the 1940s, reminds Geoff Watts of its contribution

    “One of my teachers said to me, ‘Hart, you've got to make up your mind. Do you want to work in research or have a Rolls Royce?’ I decided I wouldn't get a Rolls Royce because I didn't think I was good enough.” So research it was.

    It was this self effacing assessment, made in the 1930s, that helped to propel Philip D'Arcy Hart out of his job as a consultant physician at University College Hospital and into a post at the Medical Research Council (MRC). More than 60 years on, looking back at the decision, he can take a dual pleasure in it. The choice was professionally fruitful, and D'Arcy Hart's longevity—he celebrated his 101st birthday in June—has given him a unusually long period over which to enjoy those fruits.

    In his early days with the MRC he investigated the health of coal miners. “It was known that miners who worked in rock got silicosis. Men who worked at the ordinary coal face, hewing coal, also had lesions that killed them. But they weren't compensated. With war coming, the government knew it would need the support of the miners. So it decided on some science that would keep them content.”

    D'Arcy Hart's report …

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