Dr Brian Colston

Pioneering GP who helped transform primary health care in Britain

Photo courtesy of The Guardian

My friend Brian Colston, who has died aged 99, was one of a generation of pioneering GPs who helped to transform primary health care in Britain. Over more than 40 years he developed a range of innovative services of national significance in Birmingham’s inner city.

Working out of small, cramped premises on the Lee Bank estate, Brian led the development of preventive health care in the city. His innovative work included dedicated asthma and diabetes clinics; contraceptive advice and family planning services; attached social worker schemes; and a day hostel for the city centre homeless and people with addictions. The practice also established one of the first patient association groups in the country.

Born in Bristol to Margaret (nee Moore), a teacher, and Edward Colston, an undertaker, Brian attended Bristol grammar school.

He spent the second world war in the Royal Signals serving in east Asia. Then the Forces Education Scheme enabled him to study medicine at the University of Bristol. There he met Enid Furnival, whom he married in 1951. After he qualified as a doctor in 1956 they moved to Birmingham, where Brian spent the whole of his professional life.

After many years in the practice, Brian secured funding for a new purpose-built health centre on Lee Bank, which opened in 1985, embracing the comprehensive range of services that he saw as the core of his vision of good primary health care.

He was also actively involved with Birmingham health authority and the Medical Practitioners’ Union and played a key role in setting up a GP-led maternity ward to assist safer maternity care. He was also involved in the establishment of the Birmingham pregnancy advisory service, which, in 1968, became the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, at a time when – despite the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act – safe, legal abortions were still difficult for many women to access. As a mark of his many achievements, in 1989 he was appointed OBE.

After retiring in 1991 he moved to Devon to enjoy his passion for sailing, as well as gardening and photography, before returning to Birmingham with Enid to spend his last years. He was a thoughtful, kind and generous man who dedicated his life to the health and wellbeing of the people of inner-city Birmingham.

Brian is survived by Enid, their three children, Lucy, Simon and Nicola, and six grandchildren. His eldest son, Tim, died in 2014.

Jon Bloomfield (printed in the Guardian 1 November 2021)

Photo courtesy of the BMJ

Nicola Colston (published in BMJ 29 October 2021)

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