BBrian Leonard PentecostB
rBrian Pentecostrian Pentecost
Brian Leonard Pentecost, consultant cardiologist (b 1934; q University of London 1957; OBE, FRCP Lond, MD Lond), died from complications of a stroke on 15 January 2015.
Introduced specialist coronary care and formalised the training of junior doctors
Brian Pentecost became a consultant cardiologist at the age of just 32, at a time when cardiology was a relatively young specialty. Patients who had heart attacks were treated on general medical wards—rather than in specialist coronary units—and there was little in the way of drugs and treatment: it was simply watch and wait.At the time of his appointment at Birmingham General Hospital in 1965, coronary care units were a relatively new innovation—the first ones were set up in the late 1950s and early 60s—but Pentecost realised the potential of bringing together specialist units and research. He set up one of the first coronary care units in a side room in a district general hospital, eventually persuading the hospital authorities to provide him with a proper ward, with about six beds.
Birmingham had a world class diabetes research team, and Pentecost carried out research looking at the effects of heart attacks on diabetes patients. He also undertook studies on mortality outcomes and potential treatments for patients with myocardial infarctions—such as thrombolysis, and the enzyme streptokinase.
Pentecost was an early advocate of the multidisciplinary team, working in partnership with the senior nurses at a time when most doctors felt themselves to be superior to them. Birmingham General was a small, close knit hospital inspiring great loyalty among its staff, as well as a friendly professional rivalry with its neighbour, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Pentecost told a colleague that if he was leaving a shift and someone asked him to come back to see a patient he would do so without question.
Indeed, he and many other consultants returned to work on the night of 21 November 1974, when they heard that IRA bombs had gone off in two central Birmingham pubs, killing 21 people and injuring 182. Pentecost, alongside other consultants, worked through the night treating injured patients.
Pentecost was born in Barnehurst, Kent, to a station master father and seamstress mother, and was the first in his family to go to university. He wanted to be a doctor from a young age and won a state scholarship to study at St Mary’s Hospital in London, where he won the medical and pathology prizes as well as the silver medal for the whole of London. He was hard working and ambitious, and keen to show his gratitude to his parents who had made sacrifices to ensure he got into medical school.
He then got a house job at St Mary’s, where he met his wife, Jan, who was working as a nurse. He did his national service in Germany and on his return to London worked at Hammersmith Hospital under Sir John McMichael, who carried out pioneering work into the causes of heart failure. McMichael spotted his ambitious and bright trainee’s potential, encouraging him to apply for the consultant post in Birmingham. Before taking up his appointment he spent about a year at Massachusetts General Hospital in the United States.
When he arrived in Birmingham, John Malins, senior physician at the hospital, referred to Pentecost as “our Nijinsky,” after the racehorse (rather than the dancer) because of his swift rise up the medical ranks.Colleagues describe Pentecost as someone who had both intellectual and physical “presence.” He was fiercely intelligent, with a natural authority, as well as being tall and elegant, with a gold plated stethoscope habitually slung around his neck.
He was postgraduate dean for the West Midlands and also became the Linacre fellow at the Royal College of Physicians, where he set up a department that was instrumental in developing a much more professional approach to monitoring the training and development of junior doctors. Before this, trainees simply watched what their seniors were doing, whereas Pentecost believed that it was important to have a more rigorous approach and an understanding of whether doctors were being trained properly. He enjoyed teaching and was awarded an honorary professorship.
In the early 1990s Birmingham’s hospitals were reorganised, and the General became part of the new children’s hospital. Pentecost knew that it was in patients’ best interests for the hospitals to merge but decided to take a new appointment, as medical director of the British Heart Foundation, a post he filled from 1993 to 1999.
Health charities often witness a tension between their research and advocacy roles, and Pentecost wanted to ensure that research was at the forefront of the charity’s goals. Alongside the director general of the charity, Leslie Busk, he ensured that three quarters of the charity’s income should go on research, with the remaining quarter spent on care and education.
The charity received £65m in capital funding, and the pair asked the charity’s 25 professors to apply for grants to update their laboratories and buy new pieces of equipment. These newly updated laboratories meant that the foundation could now compete with the pharmaceutical companies in attracting the best researchers. This focus on high quality research and facilities sowed the seeds for the charity’s current status as the biggest funder of cardiovascular research in Europe. While Pentecost was at the foundation he was awarded the OBE
In his retirement he enjoyed golf and skiing, and loved his garden. He was not, however, the type to spend his retirement in the potting shed, and in 2001 he became chair of the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund. During his tenure he oversaw the development of the telephone befriending scheme (now the PhoneFriends service) and the support4doctors.org and money4medstudents.org websites.
He leaves his wife, Jan, and three children.