Obituary: Richard J. Wells

Malcolm William James Richard Wells, nurse and writer, born South Africa 19 June 1941, Clinical Nursing Officer Royal Marsden Hospital 1978-84, Advisor on Oncology Nursing Royal College of Nursing 1984-88, Director of Rehabilitation Royal Marsden Hospital 1988-93, died London 6 January 1993.

RICHARD J. WELLS was a nurse who specialised in the fields of cancer and Aids. His personal mission was to get nurses and others to smash the negative stereotypes, the 'well what can you do?' attitude, to care for people with enthusiasm and compassion and to make rehabilitation a real option in so-called terminal illness.

In the early Eighties Wells was Adviser to the Royal College of Nursing for Oncology and Cancer Nursing. He helped look after Terrence Higgins, one of the first people to die of Aids in the UK. He combined his nursing skills with a genius for political and professional lobbying and with a few close colleagues began the task of changing attitudes and increasing knowledge of HIV and Aids with nurses, allied professions and the public.

He formally took on HIV and Aids as part of his duties when he incorporated them in his work for the Royal College of Nursing. Even when he moved back to the Royal Marsden Hospital, where he had been Clinical Nursing Officer (1978-84) as Director of Rehabilitation for people with cancer, in 1988, he continued to advise the World Health Organisation, to write, to talk and most of all fight for patients who even now seem to get forgotten.

For his commitment and his effect on the nursing profession's collective attitude to HIV and Aids he was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal College of Nursing in 1987. He received many plaudits for his work. He was well-known nationally and internationally but never became complacent. He never lost sight of the patient and nurse at ground level and would spend as much time and concentration with a student nurse as with a government minister. I remember in 1985 writing to him as an inexperienced district nurse in Glasgow for information on Aids. Two days later he rang me at work at 8.30am with the information. Any letter I ever wrote to him was always replied to almost return of post.

Despite his illness he delivered one of his most powerful speeches, as someone living with Aids, at the Third European Conference for Nurses in Aids Care held in Edinburgh last October. He helped organise this event. The friendly, but assertive atmosphere among those nurses and the importance of nursing care for people with Aids can be attributed in large part to Richard Wells.

A close friend of his said how difficult it was to imagine Richard dead. He had been very ill, but he always seemed to overcome obstacles with aggression, single-mindedness and a rapier sense of humour.

In his professional life, where there was controversy there was Richard Wells.

(Photograph omitted)

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