Intensive Care in the UK is a young discipline, only achieving specialty status in 1996.
Much of the story of Intensive Care is therefore that of Anaesthesia. Likewise, Anaesthesia is a relatively young specialty, but is widely recognised as one of mankind's greatest inventions.
Until 1948, Anaesthesia was a faculty of the Royal College of Surgeons, but in the post-war years, with the establishment of the NHS, an enthusiastic drive to develop Anaesthesia led to distinct departments, academic chairs, and a number of regional societies being formed.
Newcastle saw the formation of the UK's second academic department and professorial chair (Edgar Pask) in 1949. This chair was eventually lost in 1997 when a reorganisation within the Medical School reduced the number of academic departments.
1948 also saw the formation of the North of England Society of Anaesthetists (NESA).
The original 1948 membership list includes Phillip Ayre (inventor of Ayre's T-piece) who remained a stalwart of the organisation past his retirement three decades later.
From twenty two members in 1948, NESA grew, maintaining around 135-140 members through the 1970s and 1980s. The 21st Anniversary dinner in 1969 was well attended, with Sir Edward Holden, 6th baronet of Oakworth house as guest of honour (DA 1946, FFARCS 1958)
A President's chain of Office was developed in the early 1960s, with the Ayre medal (for lifetime achievements in Anaesthesia within the Northern region) following in the 1970s
Subscription rates were 10 shillings for trainees, and £1 for consultants in the late 1960s. By the late 1990s, this had increased to a single £15 fee for trainees, and £15pa for consultants. A Miss Celia Haigh received £10pa for her long standing secretarial assistance, and a cash gift of £2 every Christmas was given to the Head Porter.
Academic meetings were held four times a year in Newcastle, with additional social activities (and some hefty drinks bills). By the mid-1970s, "Lessons from Intensive Care" featured in the programme, usually delivered by Joe Stoddard, one of the key pioneers of Intensive Care in the region.
NEICS was formed in 1994 by David Ryan & Paul Lawler, and modelled on the Association of Northwest Intensive Care units in the Manchester area. An explicit purpose of the Society was to address the Newcastle-centric arrangements of NESA, which had begun to suffer from falling attendances, particularly during the winter months. NEICS meetings were held alternately in the North & South of the region, and the first Committee reflected this: Barbara Fulton & Hazel Powell from Newcastle, Kathy Price (Sunderland), Paul Lawler (Middlesbrough) and Peter Ritchie (N Tees).
The original organisation of meetings (a local organiser supported by the committee), a regular trainees' prize presentation session, and a selection of local and national speakers at each meeting has remained virtually unchanged for 20 years. At that time, virtually all Intensive Care in the Northern Region was delivered by anaesthetists, with a wide range of clinical practice. NEICS meetings would often contain locally useful practical recommendations, helping to improve and standardise clinical management as a result.
As with many local activities in the UK medical world during the late 1990s-early 2000s, both NEICS and NESA meetings struggled and those of NESA ultimately stopped. The organisation eventually was subsumed by a newly rejuvenated NEICS in 2006, although vestiges remain: Several cardboard boxes, dutifully handed down through the generations, wrapped with dry, brittle sellotape. Inside, A4 envelopes untouched for decades, red war department books, a scattering of long expired cheque books, accountants triple copybooks, Xeroxed flimsy paper, polite copperplate acceptances or declinations of invitations, smudged typewritten correspondence b/w venues, the university, and Hon Secretaries; simple headed notepaper: "Newcastle General Hospital" with a switchboard number unchanged until the demolition of the building in 2010. There is no indication of the logos of Trusts, Foundation Hospitals, or the self-aggrandising "flagships of the NHS" in the future.
The membership lists through the years include a number of nationally recognised names (including Paul Lawler, Anna Batchelor, Ed Charlton, Chris Hull, David Greaves, and John Inkster), along with many others now dead, retired, or simply lost, with complex stories alluded to in brief notes: "Gone to Canada", "Left- bad debt", "To Dublin", "Resigned".
Likewise, the lists include names of hospitals long gone: Shotley Bridge Cardiac department, Catterick Military Hospital, Ingham Infirmary.
Perhaps in the future, should Anaesthesia & Intensive Care Medicine separate completely, there will be scope to dust off the account books and records, recover the Presidential chain of office, and resurrect the North of England Society of Anaesthetists.
NEICS remains a strong and well attended society, with twice yearly meetings. The Spring meeting is a forum for national and international speakers on both clinical and research topics, while the Autumn meeting, rotating through the hospitals of the region, continues the tradition of hosting the trainees' prize presentations and more local speakers. Those interested in becoming part of the organising committee should contact NEICS using the links on this site.