Consultant anaesthetist

Consultant anaesthetist

Born: November 30, 1958; Died: February 17, 2014.

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DR Andrew Lawson, who has died aged 55 of pleural mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, was a consultant anaesthetist from North Berwick who became known by his peers across the UK for his efforts towards pain management and in setting up clinics specifically for pain.

He established three pain clinics in his too-short career before diagnosis of his disease forced him to retire at the age 48. Two of these were in Australia and one in London, all three seen as breakthroughs in the field of pain management. Ironically, it was believed to be while he was a medical student at Guy's Hospital in London that he was exposed to asbestos, eventually causing his terminal cancer.

By the time of his diagnosis, he had taken his specialism into new dimensions, encouraging doctors, nurses and other medical personnel never to lose sight of ethics.

When he started off, pain, although the biggest concern for most patients, was largely considered secondary by medical staff, other than to administer drugs. Managing pain on an individual basis, by encouraging doctors, nurses and anaesthetists to work together on individual patients, became his vocation.

Although he worked within, and was a great believer in the NHS, he also became highly critical of its methodology, particularly after his own illness. "If I'd relied solely on the NHS to treat me, I might well be dead," he said last year. "Our outdated and inflexible system was not able to manage my cancer properly.

One year on from London 2012 and there is justifiable pride in our achievements at the Olympics and Paralympics ... for me, however, one element continues to rankle. Indeed, I know of no doctor who found the celebration of the NHS during the opening ceremony anything other than crass, politicising nonsense. The opening ceremony might have been more accurate if it had featured morbidly obese people jumping up and down on their NHS beds, and breaking them."

Andrew Douglas Lawson was born in North Berwick, East Lothian, on November 30, 1958, to a Scottish father who was an officer in the Royal Navy and an Irish mother who had been a nurse. He went south to attend the 16th Century Cranbrook School in Kent, eventually deciding on a career in medicine.

He did initial training at Guy's in Southwark, London, and later trained in anaesthesia at both the now-closed Middlesex Hospital Medical School in London's Fitzrovia district and at St. Bartholomew's (Barts), the oldest hospital in Europe. He had a spell in Hong Kong before moving on to Sydney to help set up a new pain clinic at the Royal North Shore Hospital.

It was there that he began dedicating his work to pain control and trying to ensure patients could lead active lives despite their suffering. His success and reputation brought him to Canberra Hospital, where he carried on the same work before returning to London to set up a pain clinic at the Chelsea & Westminster.

Due to lack of funds, the "clinic" was actually a tiny room in an outpatient department and Dr Lawson was constantly interrupted to administer anaesthetics in the intensive care unit. At the time, citing "mere" pain left patients waiting for weeks or months for a hospital appointment. Dr Lawson was passionate about changing the medical profession's attitude.

At the Chelsea & Westminster, his clinic, albeit tiny, developed a multidisciplinary system aimed at ensuring that doctors and nurses made patients' pain a priority, not a nuisance. He used injections, nerve blocks, and even Chinese-style acupuncture, in which he had trained himself.

Always a keen skier, he tried to ensure that multidisciplinary conferences he organised for hospital consultants were held in Alpine resorts at the height of the skiing season. He maintained that joie de vivre throughout his illness.

In an article for the Daily Telegraph after his diagnosis in 2007, he wrote: "It seems that, while at medical school, I was exposed to asbestos fibres in some part of the hospital (four other doctors and dentists from my era developed the disease; I am the only one surviving)." He himself was given a year to live.

He had three operations and six different chemotherapy courses, including treatment in the U.S. and Holland which he said he could not find within the NHS. "I knew where to look and who to ask.

It was clear to me that most NHS patients were simply not told about such trials."

Using that "one year to live" to the full -- it became seven years -- he cycled across Thailand for charity, specifically the Radley Foundation for families of war dead or wounded.

He was always available by phone to fellow cancer sufferers, often answering with a cheery: "Hello, Cancer Central here."

In December last year, when Dr Lawson was deep in chemotherapy, a colleague e-mailed him to ask how he was doing.

He replied: "Recently I'm dealing with some post-treatment issues but, hey, only one child left at school and I'll live to see her fly the nest." He didn't quite. Dr Andrew Lawson is survived by his wife Juliet Cohen, also a doctor, whom he married in 1989, and their three children.