Consultant psychiatrist and former chairman of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary Trust

Born: December 20, 1933;

Died: March 12, 2018

PROFESSOR Cairns Aitken, who has died aged 84, was a consultant psychiatrist and professor of rehabilitation who played a major role in relocating Edinburgh Royal Infirmary to its new home while serving as chair of its trust.

He had enjoyed a distinguished career, holding many prominent roles in management within Edinburgh’s universities and its health service, as a consultant psychiatrist; he was also Emeritus Professor of Rehabilitation Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

Born on 20th December 1933, he was an only child. While he was a medical student at Glasgow University his mother died of severe asthma. The stress and worry caused when she had severe breathless attacks had a profound effect on him, influencing his career choice and clinical outlook.

Early exposure to psychiatry came from a chance meeting with a fellow medical student who told him about free lodgings if you helped at the Gartnavel Royal Mental Hospital. For two years, he enjoyed free digs, waitress service meals and an introduction to the fascinating challenges of a traditional psychiatric hospital.

After qualifying in medicine in 1957, he went as an exchange fellow to McGill University, Montreal. Before leaving, he took the wise precaution of getting engaged to Audrey, whom he married as soon as he returned from Canada in [1958], the start of a happy marriage that lasted to his death.

He obtained a commission in RAF (1959-1962) and joined the Institute of Aviation Medicine travelling widely and developing an interest in treating flying phobias.

Having completed his specialist training in psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital in London, he was headhunted in 1966 by Professor Carstairs to the department of psychiatry at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital where he continued his research into asthma and psychosomatic medicine. In 1974 he was appointed Professor of Rehabilitation Studies in Edinburgh, a new chair that was designed for someone who combined an interest in disability with an understanding of the interplay of biological, psychological and social factors in motivating recovery. In making this new discipline a reality, he recognised the importance of a team approach including, not only nurses and medical staff, but also psychologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, the patients themselves and their families.

In addition to all this clinical and academic work, Professor Aitken became chairman of the Council of Napier College, helping steer it from being a local college to becoming a national polytechnic and thence the renowned university it is today. This transition was an enormous achievement with hours of painstaking negotiations, which was recognised when he was made a Fellow of Napier University in 1990.

Many would have felt such an achievement was sufficient but then he threw himself in to a series of other management challenges, first as vice-dean and then dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh from 1988-1991. He went on to become a vice principal of the university.

While he was a director of Lothian Health Board from 1991-1993 he took up the most challenging and controversial task of his career, as chair of the Royal Infirmary Trust, during the move from its historic city centre site to form the new hospital at Little France.

After so many years of public service he was awarded a CBE in 1998. Other honours included the Order of Merit of the Polish Republic.

As well as a successful career, Professor Cairns was always a family man, fortunate in receiving love, support and infinite tolerance from his wife, Audrey and and their three children, Robin, Gail and Shona, who died tragically young of cancer while a student at St Andrews University. He was also very proud of his two grandsons, Callum and Fraser.

He spent his last week with his family around him, receiving excellent care from the doctors and nurses of the NHS in the modern hospital that he had helped create.