Desert Island Discs

Thursday, 09 January 2014

Medico-Chirurgical Hall

With Castaway Prof Sir Lewis Ritchie interviewed by Doreen Wood, formerly BBC Scotland


Minute of meeting held on 9th January 2014 in the Society Hall, Foresterhill.

The President, Dr Colin Hunter presided.  There was a large attendance of members and guests.

The President firstly introduced Ms Doreen Wood, formerly of the British Broadcasting Corporation, who was to compere an evening based on the format of Desert Island Discs, a BBC radio programme in which guests select 8 pieces of music which they would choose to take with them if they were cast away on a desert inland.

After the theme music (By a Sleepy Lagoon) had been played, Ms Wood introduced Professor Sir Lewis Ritchie, Director of Public Health for NHS Grampian. 

During the session, various relevant photographs were shown, the first being of the town of Fraserburgh.  Sir Lewis explained that he had been born, had been schooled and had stayed there, all his life.  Both his grandfathers had been fishermen in Fraserburgh and his father was a mechanical engineer, managing the local toolworks (CPT). 

He had a Christian upbringing in the Baptist Church and heard gospel music on the gramophone at home but when he was seven years old, he heard the end of Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony and became ‘hooked’ thereafter on classical music.

His first ‘disc was the opening movement of Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony (Eroica) played by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Otto Klemperer.  This had been the first record which he had borrowed from the Fraserburgh library, which had pioneered the lending of classical LP records in the 1960s.  He associated the Eroica with the anxious years of the early 1960s, the slow movement of the symphony having being played live on the US radio network as the news of President Kennedy’s assassination became known.

Ms Wood and Sir Lewis then spoke about his later schooling and University career.  He was dux of Fraserburgh Academy and had excelled at chemistry.  He firstly read chemistry at Aberdeen University and canvassed to join and benefited from a new computing science course.  After witnessing a sudden death at a football match in Pittodrie Stadium, he decided to study medicine, and transferred to the Medical Faculty, following completion of his chemistry degree.  About that time, he was elected a deacon and then Secretary of the Baptist Church Fraserburgh and became engaged to Heather.  In 1978, he graduated in chemistry, then medicine and then got married – all in three consecutive days.

Disc 2 was the first record which he bought (from the late Bruce Miller’s) rather than borrowed from Fraserburgh library – Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, played by Julius Katchen on the piano with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Bolt.

Sir Lewis’ first house job was in plastic surgery and he published a paper in the British Medical Journal on the rather mundane but practical subject of axillary hyperhidrosis.  Then after haematology, SHO in obstetrics and in medicine, he became a GP trainee in Peterhead – it was close to home and had a large enough list to enable research (~20000 patients).  He then started vocational training in public health.  As part of this, he took a master’s degree in public health/community medicine at Edinburgh University, his dissertation being on the potential of microcomputers in general practice.

His third record was Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro, act 3, the Sull’aria duet, sung by Edith Mathis and Gundula Janowitz with the Deutsch Opern, Berlin, conducted by Karl Bohm.

Sir Lewis returned to Peterhead as a GP principal and partner in 1984.   He then spoke about starting a nurse led, primary coronary heart disease prevention clinic in General Practice at Peterhead, using one of the first hard-disk computers to calculate cardiovascular risk and to keep track of patient follow-up. .  He then finished his training in public health part-time, becoming a part-time consultant in public health medicine in 1987, with responsibility for community infection control and immunisation on behalf of Grampian Health Board.   Five years later in 1992, he was appointed as James McKenzie Professor of General Practice, all the time also remaining a part time GP in Peterhead. 

He also talked about learning to scuba dive about this time and told of an incident near Malta when he ran out of air at a depth of more than 35 metres, due to faulty hired equipment.  He thought he was ‘about to meet his maker’ but was fortunately rescued by a passing German diver, who ‘buddied’ him to the surface.

His fourth piece of music reflected this incident as well as his love of the sea, military leadership and brass band music.  It was For Those in Peril on the Sea to the tune Melita, (Malta) played by the Band of the Irish Guards.

After that track had been played, Ms Wood and Sir Lewis spoke about his Primary Coronary Care Prevention Study which was nurse led and which led to a randomised controlled trial of secondary prevention, based at Aberdeen University, working with Dr Neil Campbell and colleagues. This showed for the first time that lives could be saved by systematic nurse-led secondary prevention in general practice, and that it was highly cost-effective.     In 1999, he led the inauguration of the Scottish School of Primary Care and was asked in the same year by the Scottish Executive to lead the national programme for the introduction of Meningitis C vaccine in Scotland.

About this time, he and Heather bought and renovated a fisherman’s cottage in Gardenstown (Gamrie), which remains a haven for rest, recreation and friendship.

The fifth record was the Sanctus section of Faure’s Requiem, sung by the Edinburgh Festival Chorus with the Orchestra de Paris and organ, conducted by Daniel Barenboim.  Sir Lewis described it as ‘haunting and beautiful’ and it reflected gratitude and happy memories.

The conversation then moved to 2001 which turned out to be an eventful year. He was awarded an OBE for services to general practice, and became chair of the Biomedical and Therapeutic Research Committee of the Chief Scientist. He also joined the board of the newly established NHS 24, but also his father died.  NHS24 was having considerable difficulties in its early days and was unable to cope when GPs gave up all out of hours duties in 2004.  Sir Lewis became vice chair and during the painful recovery process, it lost a number of senior posts including two chairs, three chief executives and a medical director.  He described the current organisation as having travelled a long way – and ‘much better than it was.’ At the time he had a great burden for the commitment and morale of frontline staff and was a regular visitor to NHS 24 contact centres to meet with them.

Disk 6 was the ‘Good tidings to Zion’ track from a 1946 recording of Handle’s Messiah with Sir Malcolm Sargent conducting Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the Huddersfield Coral Society, alto Gladys Ripley – a track which for him reflected the importance of hope in difficult circumstances, and the importance of the telling of good news and encouraging one another.

Sir Lewis’ interest in leadership was then mentioned: military, political and increasingly important, in medicine.  In 2007, he was invited to become chair of the Scottish Medical and Scientific Advisory Committee (SMASAC), the Scottish government committee of all medical specialty advisers.  He adopted as a main priority for his chairmanship, the promotion of clinical leadership, professionalism and excellence in Scottish medicine. 

In 2009/10 in response to the Swine Flu (H1N1) Pandemic, he was asked to lead the national service delivery group of the swine ‘flu vaccination programme.  Fortunately, the virus subsequently proved to be less aggressive than feared, and the vaccine more effective than initially believed.  However, before the vaccination programme began, four pregnant women had sadly died (the highest risk group).  Thankfully, no more succumbed following introduction of the Swine Fluvaccine. 

Sir Lewis received a knighthood in 2011 for services to the NHS in Scotland.

In 2012, he retired as a GP partner at Peterhead, while continuing as Mackenzie Professor of General Practice at Aberdeen University.  He was also seconded and appointed to be Director of Public Health at NHS Grampian in 2012.

The seventh piece of music was George Gershwin’s Walking the Dog performed by the St Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin.  A photograph of Sir Lewis’ two golden retriever dogs was shown during a regular walk on Fraserburgh beach, and he spoke of the great pleasure of dog ownership.

Outwith work, Sir Lewis spoke of his collections – art, classical recordings, books, gallantry medals (particularly civilian)) and his recent purchase of the Douglas Currie, a former Fraserburgh RNLI lifeboat (also previously stationed at Macduff).  It is presently being refurbished and will then return to Fraserburgh for sailing pleasure and RNLI fundraising purposes.

He has found his Christian faith a great solace over the years and also took succour from classical music and reading about military and naval history.

The final recording was Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs, the piece played being the close of the third song, Beim Schlafengehe, sung by Elizabeth Schwarzopf accompanied by George Szell and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra.  This evoked feelings in Sir Lewis of rest, response and farewell.

As well as the bible and the complete works of Shakespeare, Sir Lewis chose as his book, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities – a book about overcoming difficulties and sacrifice.  His luxury would be an iPad loaded with books and music and charged by a solar panel.  If he could only take one recording, it would be the final choice - the Four Last Songs.

The President thanked Ms Doreen Wood and Sir Lewis.

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