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 20th Century.

Dr D’Arcy Hart qualified in Medicine in 1925 having studied in Cambridge and UCH London. He was interested in chest medicine from the beginning and became involved in establishing the usefulness of the tuberculin test in the diagnosis of tuberculosis.  As time went on he became disillusioned with the need to engage in private practice and he developed a greater interest in research. In 1937 he joined the Medical Research Council (MRC).

His first major project was a study into lung disease in south Wales miners. This investigation was established following a long campaign by the South Wales Miners’ Federation. The study established that miners not only suffered from silicosis due to rock silica but the also suffered from pneumoconiosis due to the coal dust itself. This opened the way for major improvements in mining safety and compensation for miners who suffered from lung disease.

In 1943 D’Arcy Hart was involved in the Patulin Trial which sought to establish if Patulin could treat the common cold. This was regarded as the first, well controlled, multi-centre trial with a placebo undertaken by the the MRC. The trial proved negative and was largely ignored despite its novel methodology.

The Patulin Trial was followed by the 1948 MRC Streptomycin Trail with D’Arcy Hart as its secretary. This was regarded as first randomised controlled trail. The study showed the benefits of Streptomycin but it also highlighted its toxicity and the emergence of tolerance to the the drug.

While being active in these projects Philip D’Arcy Hart was also involved in a number of other activities.  He was an early member of the Socialist Medical Association which was established to campaign for a national health service. He was very active in the Spanish Medical Aid Committee to support the democratically elected Spanish Government in the Spanish Civil War. He also involved in the establishment of the Committee for the Study of Social Medicine in 1939 which included many members who became eminent researchers and epidemiologists in the post-WW2 period.  And in the 1950s, when invited to lecture in the USA, he refused to make an declaration about his previous political loyalties.

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

Philip D’Arcy Hart died on July 30, 2006.  His researches  made coal mining a safer industry and provided the evidence to secure fair compensation for those suffering from pneumoconiosis. He
made a major contribution to the eradication of tuberculosis. He was a key player in the development of evidence  based health care and of randomised controlled trials. He helped to establish the importance of public health medicine in Britain. He was a pioneer in the campaign for a National Health Service and was a champion for social justice and democratic rights both at home and internationally.

Brian Gibbons, Dec 2021

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