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Tuberculosis: early treatments and later resurgences

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Drugs: then and now
Harold Lambert Physician
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It wasn't true to say we didn't have anything to treat patients with. We had morphine and, and its analogues. We had Digitalis and other heart drugs. We had diuretics. We had some, quite a few, antibiotics by the time I was around. I mean, you know, diverting; George Orwell died of tubercle when- not, I didn't look after himself, but in UCH in the private wing when I was a houseman and streptomycin had come in. By the time I was a registrar on chest diseases some years later we had almost the whole panoply of anti tuberculous drugs. What an extraordinary time that must have been. Were you aware that it was, there was a, a sort of revolution in the, in the, in the offing or, or- No, I don't, I don't think I was actually. I don't think I was but there were- The second year I was a clinical student, maybe the first year, there was a polio epidemic which was too big for the fever hospitals and it happened that the, registrar on the firm I was on was allocated to look after this ward. So I went in there a lot and saw rows of people in iron lungs and this was a long time before polio vaccine actually, quite a long time, about eleven years. So there was that kind of experience. I mean people do say, in talking about this to me, they sometimes say, well, you couldn't have had much to do because we haven't got all these drugs but of course in some ways you had more to do. You spent a lot of time aspirating fluid from people's chests and tummies, even their legs, and there were people sitting up in bed with, with valvular heart disease for weeks and months on end and people dying at Tubercle and it, well, it seemed very busy at the time, that's for sure.

British doctor Harold Lambert (1926-2017) spent his career tackling infectious diseases, helping in the development of pyrazinamide as an effective treatment for tuberculosis. He also published work on the rational use of antibiotics and was a trustee and medical advisor for the Meningitis Research Foundation.

Listeners: Roger Higgs

Roger Higgs was an inner city GP for 30 years in south London, UK, and is Emeritus Professor of General Practice at Kings College London, where he set up the department.

He gained scholarships in classics at Cambridge but changed to medicine after a period of voluntary work in Kenya in 1962. He was Harold Lambert's registrar for 18 months in the early 1970s, the most influential and exciting episode in his hospital training. He set up his own practice in 1975. He helped to establish medical ethics as a practical and academic subject through teaching, writing and broadcasting, and jointly set up the 'Journal of Medical Ethics' in 1975.

His other work included studies in whole person assessment and narrative in general practice and development work in primary medical care: innovations here included intermediate care centres, primary care assessment in accident and emergency departments, teaching internal medicine in general practice and establishing counselling services in medicine.

He was made MBE in 1987 for this development work and now combines bioethics governance, teaching and writing with an arts based retirement.

Tags: George Orwell

Duration: 1 minute, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008