23 June 1928 - 21 April 2011
Inventor of Entonox, which revolutionised the control of labour pains.
Michael Eric Tunstall was born Assam, India where his father was a tea planter. He spent his early childhood in India, attending a kindergarten run by his aunt before prep school and a public school in Monmouth, where he shone academically. He had an ambition to become a bacteriologist and trained at University College Hospital, London, graduating MB BS in 1952. Two years of National Service were spent as regimental medical officer for two artillery regiments in Germany. In 1956, he began as a trainee in general medical practice on the Isle of Wight, a move which accommodated his career and his love of sailing.
Dr Jim Hamer-Hodges encouraged him to switch to anaesthetics and to take part in his obstetric anaesthetic research. Posts in Portsmouth and the Middlesex Hospital, London, were followed by the Oxford senior registrar rotation, where he began his research on pre-mixed gases. During this time in the 1960s, he made the groundbreaking advance in analgesia, demonstrating that nitrous oxide and the gas oxygen, could be mixed, creating Entonox. Also known as gas and air, it not only transformed childbirth but brought comfort to countless others through its use to relieve the pain of acute trauma.
Sir Dugald Baird, Regius Professor of Midwifery in Aberdeen, encouraged Dr Tunstall to take a consultant post in Aberdeen in 1962. He developed the isolated forearm technique, making it possible to detect awareness during light general anaesthesia, a failed intubation drill, reducing maternal deaths and he helped to create an anaesthetic cream for children. He and his colleagues also established one of the world’s first neonatal intensive care units, where they developed techniques that have had an impact on maternal and perinatal mortality and the care of premature babies.
An honorary research fellow in the department of environmental and occupational medicine at Aberdeen University, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2006. Despite retirement, he continued to go into the labs, where he was still working on gases.