Professor of midwifery known for his pioneering work in fetal medicine

Born: October 21, 1927;

Died: September 13, 2018

PROFESSOR C R Whitfield, who has died aged 90, was regius professor of midwifery at Glasgow University from 1976 until 1992 and one of the leading figures in his field in the UK. He was associated particularly with the introduction of sub-specialisation in obstetrics and gynaecology(O and G), his own interest being what we now call fetal medicine which allows assessment of the development, growth and well-being of the baby in-utero.

Charles Richard Whitfield, always known as Charlie, came from a Northern-Irish family but was born in India where his father, also an O and G specialist, was serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). He was educated in Belfast, at Campbell College and Queen's University, graduating in 1950. After junior hospital appointments in Belfast he followed his father into the RAMC as a specialist in O and G and became a member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) in 1959. He served at home and overseas for 11 years before leaving the army with the rank of lieutenant-colonel.

In 1964-5 he held a research fellowship with Ed Hon, a pioneer of electronic fetal heart monitoring, in California. This guided his future interests.

Returning to Belfast he became senior lecturer and consultant and developed his then main research interest which was the management of Rhesus-affected pregnancies. Using liquor analysis to assess the severity of the condition, he developed his action line to determine the timing of intervention by premature delivery or fetal transfusion.

In 1976, after a short spell in a new chair in south Manchester, Professor Whitfield succeeded Ian Donald in the regius chair in Glasgow. Ultrasound had been developed by Ian Donald firstly at the Royal Maternity Hospital and then at the newly-opened Queen Mother's Hospital from 1964. This tool fitted well with Professor Whitfield's own research interests but was still regarded with scepticism in some quarters.

Professor Whitfield proved to be a more persuasive advocate of the technique than Ian Donald himself who was sometimes dismissed as an eccentric promoting a fanciful obsession. Ultrasound was increasingly used to determine maturity in early pregnancy, follow fetal growth, localise the placenta and aid investigative and therapeutic techniques. It is now, of course, widely used in many branches of medicine.

At the time of Professor Whitfield's appointment, the Muirhead Chair, based at the Royal Maternity Hospital, was held by M C (Callum) Macnaughton, later Sir Malcolm and president of the RCOG. The two men were very different in personality and interests,but complemented each other and became close colleagues and, with their wives, firm friends. This proved something of a golden period for Glasgow obstetrics, with many trainees passing between both departments which at that time functioned separately. Both couples were warm and generous hosts and their joint summer parties, held at finals examinations, became legendary.

Charlie Whitfield had a particular gift for identifying and nurturing young talent, and a remarkable number of his trainees went on to occupy academic chairs or otherwise distinguish themselves around the country. His many overseas contacts produced a steady supply of postgraduates from Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and southern Africa, who came to the Queen Mother's for further training. He was an exacting and demanding supervisor and created a lively and invigorating environment for all who worked there.

He was actively involved in postgraduate education in the west of Scotland and edited two editions of Dewhurst's Textbook of Obstetrics and Gynaecology for Post-Graduates.

Professor Whitfield was heavily involved with the RCOG throughout his career, serving on many committees and working parties. Chief among these was the working party on sub-specialisation which he chaired and which reported in 1982. Many in the speciality were unconvinced of the merits of this development and after the publication of the report Professor Whitfield and other members of the working party toured the country to sell the proposals.

In this they were successful, resulting in major changes in the provision of such services as fetal medicine, oncology, reproductive medicine and urogynaecology. Generalists were encouraged to develop a special interest without undergoing full sub-speciality training. This was a transformative piece of work.

Throughout his career Charlie Whitfield was supported by his wonderfully warm wife Marion. It is fair to say that she could change how Charlie himself was perceived as, to people who did not know him, he could appear intimidating. She pre-deceased him but he is survived by his son, also Charlie, and two daughters Jane and Catherine.