Intended for healthcare professionals


Paul R Kettle

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 13 May 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2606
  1. C J Kettle

Paul Kettle was born in Weston-super-Mare, where his father, Austin B Kettle, worked as a consultant physician. He studied medicine at St John’s College, Cambridge, and completed his clinical training (as had his father before him) at Guy’s Hospital in London. He also completed an optional integrated training and assessment programme to become a member of the Royal College of General Practitioners (MRCGP).

He met his wife to be, Sue (a midwife), while working in obstetrics at St Paul’s Hospital and in paediatrics at Battledown Hospital, both in Cheltenham. They were married at Prestbury in 1977. In 1978 he joined Yorkleigh Surgery in Cheltenham, where he practised for 21 years. Doctors at the practice were also on call as police surgeons.

In 1991 Paul was diagnosed with the rare autoimmune disease myasthenia gravis. After a year off he returned to work, managing to lead a relatively normal life through sheer determination. His poor health was increasingly compounded by the effects of the steroids with which he was treated. When he saw the post on Hoy advertised, it seemed a good option for a man with a debilitating illness and a sense of adventure in equal measure. His application was successful, and in the summer of 2000 he moved to Orkney with his whole family.

This move was not a leap in the dark for him. At Cambridge he had studied archaeology and anthropology as a subsidiary, and it was probably this that sparked his love of Orkney. He first visited the islands in 1974, and he returned whenever he could. He was there in 1977 for the first St Magnus Festival; he was a keen admirer of the music of Peter Maxwell Davies, the festival’s cofounder. Orkney’s landscape, history, and culture provided an ideally rich mix of the things Paul was passionate about.

Although an island with a population of 400 was a refreshing change of pace, the work brought challenges of its own. Perhaps this is best illustrated by an anecdote. George, a well-known islander, at home on his own with two dogs, was unable to get out of bed because of back pain. He remembered that there was a new doctor and rang his home number. Paul was off duty; he said he’d be round in a while but hoped it was ok if he finished with the wet cement he was using. Five minutes or so later he appeared, cement on his person, let himself in, listened to George, and gave him some diazepam out of his bag. Paul asked if there was anything else he could do for him: George replied that the dogs could do with walking. Paul walked them and came back 20 minutes later. George reckoned Paul might do as an island doctor.

For 12 years Paul worked as Hoy’s much admired and loved GP. It was a demanding singlehanded practice, but Paul loved it. When his health began to deteriorate again in 2006 he did not allow this to stop him enjoying his work or his immersion in island life. He became a member of the Orkney Health Board and fought vigorously to keep doctors on the outer islands—something that earned him the gratitude of many. A further deterioration in 2012 forced his retirement: this was an enormous blow for him as he loved his work, but he was not physically able to carry on.

In August 2014 he was admitted to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary for the removal of a screw that had come loose in the metal scaffolding round his spine. Shortly after this, the entire scaffolding collapsed and had to be removed through a hole in his back. The condition of his spine made further surgery impossible. He remained in hospital for almost six months while attempts were made to close the hole in his back. A plastic surgeon made two further large holes, one either side, to reduce the tension on the skin growing back over the original hole. In addition to continual pain, Paul’s condition was further exacerbated by diabetes and by a stroke that deprived him of his eyesight and his mobility down his left side. He was airlifted back to Hoy in February 2015, where he died at home less than a month later.

“Doctor, musician, singer, poet, and storyteller”: so ran the headline of Paul’s obituary in The Orcadian, and it gives some idea of the many ways in which Paul is missed by the islanders of Hoy and by his family. He leaves his wife, Sue; children Elisabeth and Robert; and grandchildren Mia, Ruby, Gracie, and Jack.


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2606


  • General practitioner Hoy, Orkney (b 1949; q Cambridge/Guy’s Hospital 1975; DRCOG, MRCGP, DGM RCP Lond), d 14 March 2015.

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