Senior doctors recognised the need for Palliative Care 50 years ago

  • Talking Points

The funeral has recently taken place of Dr Alastair Laing, one time Physician in Administrative Charge of the Radiotherapy and Oncology Department at the Churchill Hospital Oxford. He was 91.

Sir Christopher Paine, one time Dean of the Medical School of Oxford University, paid tribute to his former colleague of over 35 years. Dr Paine said that his calm influence in the very stressful circumstances of a cancer department inspired confidence in his patients; he took on 500 new cases of cancer each year, a large number even then. His wide experience, listening ear and ever open door to colleagues made for a very happy department which was a fulfilling place to work under his leadership.

Dr Laing was the catalyst who led to the establishment of a palliative care service in Oxford. Often those facing imminent death were left by the surgeons in the care of their registrars. Dr Laing caught the vision from Dame Cicely Saunders at St Christopher’s Hospice. He persuaded Michael Sobell, (a businessman who from his electronics business in making Television Sets established the Sobell Foundation), to set up the Sobell House Hospice in Oxford. Dr Robert Twycross, who also attended the funeral, was its first director.

Dr Laing, from Glasgow, had been a Christian most of his life. His wife of 65 years, Kate, who met him at medical school in Glasgow, survives him. He had suffered from Type 1 diabetes since he was 26, but never let that interfere with his work. His nephew Gordon Laing, who had travelled from New Zealand, noted that while his achievements in his professional life had been remarkable, his family was most important to him. He had suffered poor health in his later years, and remained at home where he died. His daughter Carol said that he never ever complained. All his carers attended his funeral.