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Professor George Adams (1916 - 2012):
Physician; pioneering geriatrician

George Adams

Professor George Adams spent the entirety of his distinguished medical career in Ulster, based at Belfast City Hospital where he was appointed consultant physician in geriatric medicine in 1949 (as well as honorary lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at Queen's University, Belfast) where his pioneering work in geriatric medicine made him unquestionably the leading figure in this field; he was also one of the leading geriatricians in the United Kingdom as a whole.

George Fowler Adams was born at Aberford, near Leeds (his mother was English) but grew up in his father's native Ulster, being educated at Larne Grammar School and then Queen's University, Belfast where he graduated in medicine in 1938. He was for a year a resident house officer at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, then joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Ulster Division, where he saw service during the Second World War at Alexandria and on a merchant aircraft carrier, the MV Empire MacKendrick, protecting the Atlantic Convoys. Besides his chirurgical and general medical duties, he organised fitness activities of various kinds for the crew, including boxing jousts, which resulted in some minor inures which he had to treat as medical officer.

After the War he returned to Queen's University for postgraduate study under WWD Thomson (later Sir William Thomson), Professor of Medicine at Queen's University and Visiting Physician at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast. In 1947, he was on secondment to the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith, where he worked with Russell Fraser on glucose tolerance. He also came into contact with some figures in geriatric medicine: Marjorie Warren Trevor Howell, Lionel Cosin and Lord Amulree, at the inaugural meeting of the Medical Society for the Care of the Elderly. Of these, Marjorie Warren of West Middlesex Hospital was the most significant as she was the most influential pioneering geriatrician in the United Kingdom, who created the first geriatric unit in the UK, and came to be known as the "mother of geriatrics". Adams would later pay tribute to her as showing a practical example of what was possible in the treatment of the elderly in hospital, or as he bluntly put it, the "neglected human wreckage" in overcrowded hospital wards. On his return to Belfast, he was inspired and encouraged by Thomson, who was much concerned with geriatric care and particularly how geriatric patients would fare in the new National Health Service instituted in 1948. It was Thomson who was able to have Adams' posts created for him, in the face of opposition to specialised posts in geriatric medicine. Adams carried out thorough reviews of hundreds of such patients in the Belfast City Hospital, who occupied buildings which were originally a municipal workhouse (the Belfast Union Infirmary, which had first opened its lugubrious doors on January 1, 1841), as well as in every hospital in Northern Ireland (of which there were 33; his reviews included a survey of living conditions of elderly people in a sample selection of subjects in their own homes.

Adams worked diligently on all sides. He was an energetic and thorough administrator, his clinical approach was the opposite of the previously-favoured passive custodial manner. His innovations included setting up a mobile physiotherapy unit, the first recovery unit in Northern Ireland to bridge the gap between rehabilitation in hospital and independent life at home. Institutionally, he was a driving force behind the establishment of Wakehurst House at Belfast City Hospital.

Adams published widely. His titles include Essentials of Geriatric Medicine (1977); Geriatric medicine in Northern Ireland: Conception, Gestation and Delivery, 1947-1974 (1975); Cerebrovascular Disability and the Ageing Brain (1974); Geriatric nursing: a study of the work of geriatric ward staff (with PL McIlwraith, 1963).

As Marjory Warren had been described as the "mother of geriatrics", so Adams was described as "the father of geriatric medicine in Northern Ireland".

Born: 25 January 1916
Died: 13 March 2012
Richard Froggatt

Wesley McCann; Professor Sir Peter Froggatt


Obituaries: British Medical Journal (BMJ 2012;344:e3047), The Times 6.4.2012; A Barton, G Mulley:  History of the development of geriatric medicine in the UK (; Richard Clarke: The Royal Victoria Hospital Belfast: A History; Cahal Dallat: Caring By Design (DHSSNI 1985);