Dr H T 'Joe' Ford

Obituaries - Clinical oncology
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Dr H T 'Joe' Ford

18/09/1929 to 04/12/2003
Memoir Author: 
J-C Gazet

Pioneer of Combined Breast Cancer Clinics, Radiotherapist and Hospice Doctor

Dr H T Joe Ford, consultant in radiotherapy to St George's and the Royal Marsden Hospitals, who has died aged 74, was one of the young Turks who helped to revolutionise the treatment of breast cancer. In the early 1970s they pioneered the first Combined Breast Clinic in the United Kingdom. Joe Ford was an immaculate technical radiotherapist with a selfless devotion to his patients and staff. He is remembered as one of the last in the line of gentleman physicians.

Born in Colchester in 1929, he lost his father to Hodgkin's Disease at three months old. He had the great fortune to be educated at the Royal Masonic School for Boys from 1938 to 47, and progressed to Westminster Medical School, qualifying as a doctor in 1952. Following house appointments at the Gordon and Westminster Hospitals, he took a short service commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps and became an anaesthetist. However, the influence of his early chiefs, Stanley Aylett, Ronald Raven and Sir Stanford Cade, all working in the cancer field, led him to train in the developing specialism of radiotherapy. He qualified as a Fellow of the Faculty of Radiotherapists in 1961 and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Radiologists in 1975. He took up his first consultant appointment in Northampton in 1964. After six years, his ambition to push forward the boundaries of radiotherapy took him to the role of consultant radiotherapist and oncologist at St George's and the Royal Marsden Hospitals. Here he was able to work at the leading edge of his profession, in a role he pursued for 26 years.

With fellow consultants in surgical oncology and medicine, Joe Ford helped to found the first Combined Breast Clinic in the UK. All patients who had been diagnosed with breast cancer through mammography and cytology were seen by a team of consultant surgeon, physician and radiotherapist. The team of consultants discussed the diagnosis and suggested treatments, all within the time frame of three hours from initial consultation. In addition, they introduced the concept of nurse specialists to assist in diagnosis, management and counselling. Over the next 25 years this one-stop clinic successfully managed thousands of patients by providing a highly effective combination treatment by surgery, radiotherapy and chemoendocrine therapy. This combined, multidisciplinary approach has proved highly influential in the treatment of many other cancers and pre-dates the current focus on joined-up service provision.

Joe Ford was the co-author of nearly 100 medical publications which have significantly influenced the way in which breast cancer is managed, helping to improve prognosis and survival rates.

In 1976 he was a founding trustee of the Breast Cancer Research Trust, which was set up to support basic research into the causes of breast cancer. The Princess Royal agreed to be the first president of the trust, and Dame Vera Lynn was its chair and later its president.

Following his retirement from the NHS in 1994, Joe Ford became the medical director of St Raphael's Hospice, in South London. Here, in calmer waters, he spent eight years applying his wealth of knowledge, expertise and experience to specialist palliative care. He was a much loved and revered figure in the hospice and had an outstanding impact on patients, their families and staff alike.

Alongside his medical practice, Joe was a passionate teacher. He was particularly interested in postgraduate education and there are many consultants in radiotherapy who benefited from the patient training he was able to offer them. He was an examiner at the Royal College of Surgeons and at the Royal College of Radiologists. Although he received many academic honours, his clinical work was his absorbing passion. He never sought high office and eschewed medical politics.

He was a very private man, a staunch colleague and constant friend. He was slow to criticise and quick to heal rifts with humour and tact. He was also a man of immense generosity, giving freely of his time, his talent, his laughter and his innate kindness.

He had two extremely happy and supportive marriages. His first wife, Valerie, died of breast cancer in 1978. His second wife, Marjolijn, survives him, along with her two sons and the three sons from his first marriage.