OBITUARY : Professor Douglas Miller

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The Independent Online
Over the past decade and a half when any of my (often most vulnerable) constituents have come to see me about problems related to head injury or mental illness, I would ask them in whose hands their treatment lay. Often the answer was "Professor Douglas Miller of the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh". "In which case," I could truthfully say, "you are in the hands of one of the most gifted neurosurgeons in the world."

Not only was Douglas Miller one of the most distinguished neurosurgeons, but he was also a supremely caring man of medicine, who took a sustained interest in what became of his patients. He was genuinely loved and respected, moreover, by those who worked for him: junior doctors, nurses or cleaning staff. In all his work he was marvellously supported by his wife Margot, herself a distinguished nurse and matron.

Alas, the M8 motorway and its predecessor the A8 three-lane road between Edinburgh and Glasgow, running through my constituency, has been notorious for the many appalling motor accidents that have happened on it, often involving severe head injuries. Miller, to my first-hand knowledge, would turn out at any hour of day or night to apply his expertise. It was the consensus of his colleagues both in the Western General Hospital and at Edinburgh University to whom I talked that no one in Europe knew more about the problems associated with intracranial pressure or was more skilled at dealing with them.

Miller was born in Glasgow of a father who worked as an executive for Collins the publishers. At Glasgow Academy, then as now a testing academic school, he distinguished himself and went to the university intending to read modern languages. In midstream he decided to change and, without a science background, was accepted into the medical faculty who suspected that he was a student of great talent. In this they were right.

During the period when he rotated, as every medical student had to, from orthopaedics which had been his first interest, he came across Bryan Jennett, the world-renowned neurosurgeon. Such was Jennett's influence that Miller decided to make his life in neurosurgery. Jennett told me yesterday: "Miller was involved in developing organised care for patients suffering from head injuries in collaboration with accident surgeons and anaes- thetists. He devised means of measuring and treating the dangerous high intracranial pressures that often complicate such injuries. He was also active in laboratory experimentation in this field in Glasgow, Philadelphia and Richmond, Virginia."

It is a widespread view in the biological sciences faculty of Edinburgh University that their colleague Miller was in the world class of expertise in the complications of head injuries. He was extremely prominent on the international stage of neurosurgery. Only weeks ago, for example, he was at the important conference on head injury at Toronto, giving a paper on neuro-traumas, "Brain Ischaemia after head injury: Monitoring the Threat". Earlier this summer he was in Berlin at the General Conference on Neurosurgery addressing his colleagues from all round the world on "secondary insults in head injury and clinical trials". He was a prominent figure at the congresses of the European Association of Neurosurgeons. And young neurosurgeons from many countries spent time in his clinics and laboratories as part of their training.

Miller was also in the last couple of years deeply concerned about government actions in withdrawal of money destined for pure research and last month at a Cambridge workshop, sponsored by the German pharmaceutical company Bayer, contributed a powerful paper on "The Threat to Academic Neurosurgery: The Consequences of Government Cut-Backs".

My friend and Parliamentary colleague Professor Sam Galbraith, now Labour Member of Parliament for Bearsden but in a previous incarnation himself a distinguished professor of neurosurgery in Glasgow and a close friend and colleague of Miller, told me yesterday: "Douglas worked hard and played hard. He was able to combine scientific brilliance, with a full and enjoyable life. Douglas always had time for his family, friends and, possibly unusual in his profession, his junior colleagues. One night at a conference in the United States, Douglas, another professor and myself sat up the whole night drinking. After a shower, Douglas then delivered a quite brilliant lecture on head injury. That was the measure of the man."

On Wednesday morning when it was known in Edinburgh that Douglas Miller had died there was a sense of lacuna not only in the Western General Hospital and the medical faculty of the University, but throughout a wide sector of life of the Festival city.

James Douglas Miller, neurosurgeon: born Glasgow 20 July 1937; Surgical Senior House Officer and Registrar, Glasgow 1962-65; Medical Research Council Fellow 1965-67; US Public Health Service Fellow in Neurosurgery, University of Pennsylvania, 1969-71; Senior Lecturer in Neurosurgery, Glasgow University 1971-81; Professor of Neurosurgery, Virginia Commonwealth University 1975; Professor of Surgical Neurology, Edinburgh University 1981- 95; married 1965 Margaret (Margot) Rainey (two sons); died Edinburgh 23 August 1995.