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Hospice tribute to inspirational founding board member Dr Derek Doyle

Hospice tribute to inspirational founding board member Dr Derek Doyle image

Staff and volunteers at St Columba's Hospice Care have paid tribute to the life and inspirational legacy of the organisation's first medical director and founding board member Dr Derek Doyle, who has died aged 90.

Dr Derek Doyle (13 July 1931 - 21 January 2022) was a missionary surgeon who was the first medical director and founding board member of St Columba’s Hospice and the founder of the journal Palliative Medicine. Dr Doyle died peacefully at home, on Friday 21 January 2022, surrounded by family.

Dr Derek Doyle was born in Bury, near Manchester on 13 July 1931. Soon after, his family relocated to Glasgow where he attended school before enrolling as a medical student at Edinburgh University, graduating in 1955.

After qualifying from his studies, Dr Doyle travelled to South Africa with his wife where they worked as Church of Scotland missionaries through some of the worst years of apartheid, from 1957 to 1966. He focused initially on surgical work in a highly deprived area (now known as Kwa-Zulu-Natal) before taking up the role of Medical Superintendent to a 150-bed hospital in the Transkei.

When Dr Doyle returned to Edinburgh, he quickly established his own practice and worked both as a family doctor there and as an Associate Specialist in Corstorphine Hospital. This coincided with the opening of St Christopher’s in South London - the world’s first modern hospice. Following a meeting with Dame Cicely Saunders and inspired by the model of care at St Christopher’s, Ann Weatherall, the Matron at Corstorphine Hospital, began to explore the feasibility of opening a hospice in Edinburgh. She envisioned a facility which would not only offer exceptional end-of-life care but also specialise in teaching and research. With Dr Doyle's support, this vision became a reality when St Columba’s Hospice opened its doors to patients in December 1977. Nestled on the banks of the Firth of Forth in Edinburgh, Dr Doyle became a founding board member and the Medical Director of the first hospice in Scotland.

As interest in the field of palliative and hospice care grew, Dr Doyle’s influence quickly spread beyond Scotland as he worked tirelessly to develop undergraduate training programmes, CPD for qualified doctors and raise the profile of a new field of medical endeavour. Working with other pioneers, he went on the help shape and was the founding President of the Association of Palliative Medicine of Great Britain and Ireland. He was also the founder and first editor of the journal Palliative Medicine. Crucially, he worked with others to gain recognition for this area as a medical specialty, which occurred in 1987 – making Britain the first country in the world to create a career path in palliative medicine.

Dr Doyle played a significant role in palliative care, both internationally and nationally, and was an honorary member of many hospice and palliative care societies. He was the first Vice-Chairman of the European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC) and first Chair of the European Committee for Medical Education and Training in Palliative Care, Other important appointments included: Vice-Chairman of the National Council for Hospice and Specialist Palliative Care Services in the UK and until his death, Honorary President of the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care.

Dr Doyle also started the “Doyle Club” which was a national training meeting and one of our consultants, Dr Laird, had the honour of hosting this several times where Dr Doyle attended to chair. The trainees were in awe and inspired by his teachings during these meetings.

Dr Doyle had a remarkable life and played a critical role in shaping a new discourse at the end of life. During his final years, Dr Doyle continued to influence palliative care developments internationally. He promoted the work of his specialty with passion and determination and dedicated his life to compassion for patients and their families.

Dr Doyle leaves a long-lasting legacy at St Columba’s Hospice, not only through the building, but in the memories of the staff and volunteers he worked with and in the careers he helped shape.

He may be gone, but he will never be forgotten.

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