Lives Remembered

Prof Hugh McGavock: Gentlemanly pharmacology expert who warned of overuse of antibiotics

Prof Hugh McGavock was author of How Drugs Work: Basic Pharmacology for Healthcare Professionals

PROF Hugh McGavock's expertise in pharmacology was matched only by his desire to share it with doctors, nurses and students.

His book How Drugs Work, now in a fourth edition, has become a bible for GPs and pharmacists.

He acted as an advisor to governments around the world and his warnings about the rise of drug-resistant infections due to overuse of antibiotics have seeped into public consciousness.

Prof McGavock also set up the first nursing degree course at the University of Ulster in Coleraine and was helping plan its new medical school in Magee in the months before his sudden death aged 79.

His passion for education recalled his own schooling when he was inspired by a biology teacher, Ethel Kennedy, to pursue a career in medicine.

Hugh spent his childhood between Larne, Newtownards and Dungannon as his father moved between linen factories and he was a pupil at Belfast Royal Academy when he achieved the highest biology mark in Northern Ireland in his final exams.

He went on to excel at Queen's University, where he was invited to do an honours degree in physiology, and showed great talent during a year at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

A desire to pursue further research in physiology brought him to the Royal Army Medical Corps in Surrey, where he produced important work on acclimatisation.

However, the tragic death of his first-born son hit both he and his doctor wife Betty hard and he decided to enter general practice, first in England before relocating to Portrush, where the couple ran a surgery together.

Hugh was a GP trainer from 1975-80 and then took up a job with the Department of Health which saw him visit every practice in Northern Ireland.

He found that most were doing the very best they could but savings could be made in the area of prescribing.

This set him on a path to becoming an expert in the field of pharmacology, compiling books including How Drugs Work: Basic Pharmacology for Healthcare Professionals to offer "clear concepts for matching the pharmacology to the diagnosis".

He was appointed director of the Drug Utilisation Research Unit at QUB and chairman of the UK Drug Utilisation Research Group, was a Fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners, an advisor to the House of Lords Committee on Antimicrobial Resistance, and a member of the Committee on Safety of Medicines in London.

He also compiled the first Northern Ireland GP Formulary.

All the time he maintained a healthy and active lifestyle, enjoying hill walking and cycling with his wife of 54 years, whom he met at a university house party by Corrymeela founder Rev Ray Davey and proposed to on top of Slieve Donard.

Among the many messages Betty has received since his death was a letter from Prof Hugh McKenna, Dean of Medical School Development at Ulster University, who paid tribute to his "analytical mind and gentlemanly ways".

He said as a lecturer to nursing students, he had a remarkable ability to get complex messages across in an understandable and meaningful way and he had enthusiastically volunteered to help develop the new medical school at Magee.

"He was loved by all the students and staff because of his genuine desire to do his best for them," he said.

Prof Hugh McGavock died of a massive heart attack on April 17.

He is survived by his wife, children James, Samuel and Philip, grandchildren Jamie and Beth and siblings Ray and Ann.

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Lives Remembered