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Churchill: the Struggle for Survival 1940-1965

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 15 February 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e908

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Re: Churchill: the Struggle for Survival 1940-1965

Matthew Down brings welcome attention to Lord Moran's account of his time as Churchill's physician. The book is interesting from such an extraordinary number of angles - pathography of a great leader, military history, politics and medical history - that there is something for every reader.

One particularly telling additional insight in the original draft, and restored in the 2006 revision (1), tells us much about the challenge of maintaining professional distance when ministering to the powerful.

When Churchill came back into power in 1951, Moran was concerned that he might appoint Walter Elliot, the Scottish physician and politician as Minister for Health, a position he had previously held in the 1930's. Moran was sufficiently exercised at this prospect that he threatened to resign as Churchill's physician if Elliot was appointed.

Clearly aware of unhappily controversial nature of this threat, Moran excised this passage from the first edition of his book. Its restoration allows us a fuller and more balanced view of a remarkable physician, and also a sense of vigilance for where we might be challenged in preservation of our own professional reserve.

On a lighter note, we also get a wonderful perspective on the formality of medicine in the post-war era. Writing of how the news of Churchill's defeat in the 1945 election broke as he and a group of Fellows were having tea after lunch in the College of Physicians, he wrote: "One Fellow so far forgot where he was as to emit a low whistle". We can only hope that a somewhat more relaxed atmosphere prevails in Regent's Park in the present day!

1. Moran CMW. Churchill: The Struggle for Survival 1945-60. 2nd Ed. London, Robinson, 2006.

Competing interests: No competing interests

16 February 2012
Desmond O'Neill
Consultant Physician in Geriatric and Stroke Medicine
Trinity College Dublin
Tallaght Hospital, Dublin 24, Ireland