Health Heroes

Dr Philip D’Arcy Hart

Philip D’Arcy Hart was born in 1900. His father gave up a legal career to become a popular artist of the period. His mother was the daughter of a progressive Liberal MP for Whitechapel towards the end of the 19th Century.

D’Arcy Hart qualified as a doctor in 1925, studying at Cambridge and University College Hospital, London. He showed an interested in thoracic medicine, and helped demonstrate the efficacy of tuberculin tests to diagnose tuberculosis.

He became disillusioned with the need to engage in private practice, developing instead an even greater interest in research. In 1937 he joined the Medical Research Council (MRC).

His first significant project was a study into lung disease in Welsh miners, following a long campaign by the South Wales Miners’ Federation. It established that miners not only suffered from silicosis from rock silica, but also pneumoconiosis due to coal dust. This led to improvements in mining safety and compensation for miners who suffered from lung disease.

In 1943 D’Arcy Hart was involved in the trial of patulin as a treatment for the common cold. This was the first placebo-controlled, multi-centre trial undertaken by the the MRC. Patulin proved ineffective, and despite its novel methodology, the trial was largely ignored.

The Patulin Trial was followed by the 1948 MRC Streptomycin Trial with D’Arcy Hart as its secretary. The study was the first randomised controlled trial of its kind, and demonstrated the antibiotic benefits of Streptomycin, whilst noting its toxicity and emerging bacterial resistance to the drug.

D’Arcy Hart was an early member of the Socialist Medical Association, which campaigned for a national health service. He was also very active in the Spanish Medical Aid Committee, supporting the democratically elected Spanish Government in the Spanish Civil War.

He helped establish the Committee for the Study of Social Medicine in 1939, which included many members who became eminent researchers and epidemiologists after the Second World War. When invited to the USA to lecture at the height of the Red Scare of the 1950s, he declined to make any declarations about his previous political loyalties.

D’Arcy Hart worked with the MRC until retirement in 1967. Even then, he continued to be an active researcher, teacher and lecturer until well into his 90s. He was elected as one of the first Honorary Fellows of the Academy of Science in 1999 for his post-retirement work on tuberculosis and lysosomes.

He died on July 30th, 2006.

Brian Gibbons, Dec 2021