Obituary: Dr Anthony Hopkins

Anthony Hopkins, Director of the Research Unit at the Royal College of Physicians since 1988, was a most distinguished and unusual figure in the world of medicine.

His appointment in 1972 as Consultant Neurologist at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, was controversial. To Bart's, a hospital which had then the reputation of appointing its own, he was a foreigner, having trained at Guy's. At 35 he was thought too young, and too inexperienced clinically. He had come from the stable of the National Hospital, Queen Square, where he had trained under Roger Gilliatt, whose reputation for academic accuracy, if sometimes combined with an acerbic tongue, occasionally broke through in Hopkins's own manner.

But he continued to climb, becoming Physician in Charge of the Department of Neurological Sciences at Bart's in 1976. In clinical neurology, he was before his time in many developments. He established "hub and spoke" links (links between the Teaching Hospital and District General Hospital) in the Bart's department some 15 years before it became a term used by the NHS Executive and others. He realised not only that it improved clinical practice and quality of consultant staff, but that it would become a necessity for the survival of specialised units in a changing NHS. We noted, however, that Hopkins remained very much at the centre of the hub.

Major clinical research projects followed, in diverse fields, as he established a neurological department. With Dr Richard Greenwood he carried out tests studying changes in the reflexes in subjects falling from a height, dropping even Edward, his infant youngest son, as part of his research.

A perceptive (and quite unconnected) study on the everyday problem of headaches followed. One of the commonest symptoms of human beings, headaches had been studiously disregarded by most neurologists until Hopkins addressed the subject. Collaborating with sociologists, rather than doctors, he measured the size of the problem, pointing out the cost of 1,600 people per 100,000 consulting a doctor for headache each year, while fewer than 10 had any serious disease.

Several studies on the epidemiology of epilepsy followed, resulting in the publication of Epilepsy (1987). Finally, with Dr Elizabeth Davies, he turned to the care of patients with malignant brain tumours, recording in meticulous detail the care which this unfortunate group of patients and their families actually receive. His findings were roundly criticised, having irritated the cancer doctors' establishment, but he was very ready to defend them - and his last words on this matter will be published posthumously.

One common theme ran through these studies. They recorded and researched what happened, for better or worse, to patients, in a general population rather than in an ideal medical setting. Each, in its way, remains a landmark study.

Whilst he gave a first-class clinical opinion, medicine at the bedside was not his forte. He was able to acknowledge this to those close to him, confessing impatience and irritation. It was however in his writing about clinical events that he portrayed a softer side, and one of deep human understanding. Clinical Neurology: a modern approach (1993) is an example of economy of style, readability and clinical wisdom.

His mid-consultant career was marred by some personal disappointment. He failed to be appointed to the Chair of Medicine at Bart's, and later to the post of Dean of the Medical School, his applications an indication that he was looking for a role as a leader in the profession. In an unusual but wise move for a clinician in a then flourishing hospital, he left Bart's in 1988 to become Director of the Research Unit of the Royal College of Physicians, a post where he could develop his interests in Health Economics, Clinical Effectiveness, Audit and Outcome. He soon penetrated the NHS Executive, and sat on seven of its advisory groups, though he indicated that many colleagues there frustrated him because "they seemed to change their minds so often, following political fashion".

Numerous other appointments followed, from work with the Chief Economist on quality and effectiveness measures, through a galaxy of Royal College committees, to liaison with patient support groups, the editorial boards of six journals and the King's Fund Centre Committee. If these were not enough, in addition he managed to be the main author of 10 major publications in the last year.

Those of us who respected his intellect found ourselves a lifelong ally, and one who was ready to understand our anxieties, and to encourage unusual career moves. Hopkins was suspicious of the present trend of increasing dogged specialism and questioned the value and the effect of cloning specialists who, he argued, would have to carry out progressively mundane work as their numbers increased.

In the weeks before he died, Hopkins was proposed as one of eight candidates for the forthcoming Presidency of the Royal College of Physicians. Whether he would have succeeded remains conjecture, but the seven survivors who strive for election would do well to heed his understanding of that savage arena between Government, health care and the medical profession itself.

To his friends Anthony Hopkins seemed on the threshold of a new era. This slightly gaunt figure, with a lifelong ambling gait, a shock of dark hair, piercing brown eyes and a slight stoop was unmistakable. Our friendship lasted nearly 20 years, but for many others he was not an easy man, particularly when a combination of his intellectual crispness and caustic turn of phrase clashed with the medical establishment. It is hard to capture this complex, resolute soul.

Charles Clarke

Anthony Philip Hopkins, neurologist: born Poole, Dorset 15 October 1937; Consultant Neurologist, St Bartholomew's Hospital 1972- 76, Physician in Charge, Department of Neurological Sciences 1976-88; Director, Research Unit, Royal College of Physicians, London 1988-97; married 1965 Elizabeth Wood (three sons); died London 7 March 1997.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee