Dr Peter Fisher, consultant physician, Banbury politician, defender of the NHS and 'untouchable' at the Horton General Hospital, has died aged 88

Dr Peter Fisher, Horton hospital consultant, politician and dedicated campaigner for Banbury's general hospital and the NHS, has died, aged 88.

Monday, 16th August 2021, 5:25 pm
Updated Wednesday, 18th August 2021, 12:50 pm
Peter and Veronica Fisher at a family celebration in Shropshire

His professional life was spent in the medical world and he was completely dedicated to the National Health Service. He spent nearly three decades as a consultant at the Horton where he was said to be 'untouchable'.

In 1976 he was a founder member of the NHS Consultants' Association (later re-named Doctors for the NHS) and continued campaigning up to three weeks ago.

Dr Fisher was a founder member of Banbury Health Emergency, set up to defend and protect the Horton as a general hospital. The organisation was later renamed Keep the Horton General (KTHG) and Dr Fisher remained a member, recently contributing his considerable medical and strategic knowledge to a 2017 High Court case which challenged downgrading of maternity and closure of beds without proper public consultation.

Peter Fisher with daughter Mary on her 50th birthday

His death, at home in Great Bourton last Wednesday, August 11, has prompted many tributes from people who universally described him as wise, humane, sensible, hard-working, kind, gentle and committed.

Peter Fisher was born in Northallerton, north Yorkshire, the only child of Jack and Nora Fisher. He won a scholarship to Northallerton Grammar School and went on to Cambridge University to read medicine. A talented athlete, he was invited to join the Alveston Club, specialising in long jump and high jump. He was a keen hiker, completing the Lyke Wake Walk in his 40s.

Dr Fisher went to Middlesex Hospital to do clinical studies. During that time he met Veronica - also a doctor - on a skiing holiday and the two married on August 2 1958. They celebrated 63 years of marriage earlier this month.

The couple had four children, Louise Dexter, Tom (a lawyer who died in 1995), Mary Burnett and Helen Fisher. They have one granddaughter, Macy, now 15 who is an exceptionally talented swimmer of whom Dr Fisher was very proud.

Dr Peter Fisher and his daughter Louise on a holiday in the Yorkshire Dales

After Middlesex Dr Fisher became a houseman at Hemel Hempstead where he stayed for 18 months before moving to Cornwall for a year. In 1960 he and his wife went to Fiji and Western Samoa to join the South Pacific Health Service for three years as a medical officer.

Daughter Mary Burnett said: "They absolutely loved it and never stopped talking about it. Veronica qualified a year later than Peter and set up a GP practice there in a Catholic community hall. She was also medical officer for an Australian sugar refinery. In Western Samoa she was medical officer for the colonial service in obstetrics and gynaecology."

On their return Dr Fisher was appointed a medical registrar in Northallerton and then took up a post as a medical registrar in Liverpool where he stayed for five years. In 1969 the family moved to Banbury where Dr Fisher took up a position as Consultant Physician for Oxfordshire based at the Horton General Hospital but travelling to clinics around the county.

His wife, a GP, joined the Cropredy Surgery, moving to Hightown Surgery where she became senior partner after nine months.

Veronica and Peter Fisher - both doctors - on their wedding day

Mrs Burnett said: "He was a hard taskmaster; he made sure he got what he wanted for his patients. He was well known among his colleagues for being very driven and proud of his short waiting list - he worked his staff hard to ensure patients benefited and there was no inefficiency. The patient came first.

"We never had a Christmas Day without first going to see the patients in the hospital and he would be allocated a particular ward to carve the turkey for the patients. All the wards were painted and decorated. We would dress up to entertain the patients.

"We have so many fond family memories of dressing up with Dad as Goldilocks and we girls would be the three bears and our brother Tom was the bowl of porridge. Then we'd go back for our own Christmas Day, having dinner in the evening."

Mrs Burnett said her father was a very important figure in Great Bourton where the family has lived since 1969. "He has lived here for 52 years and has done a lot for the community, being instrumental in getting a playground for the village and belonging to the gardening and music clubs. The village fetes were held in our garden.

Dr Peter Fisher as a young man

"Dad was a really strong moral compass and led by example - a moral guide in his professional and political world but also for his family."

He was a Governor at Banbury School and a member of CND, going to Greenham Common with Louise, then aged 14, and linking arms with other campaigners around the nuclear weapons base.

Dr Fisher campaigned for Labour in the 1970s and was elected county councillor for the Labour Party in the 1980s serving for three terms. In 1981 he was the Labour representative on a visit to Buckingham Palace, taking his wife and 18-year-old daughter Louise with him as his guests.

In the 1990s he was a founder member of the Banbury Health Emergency whose first chairman was Steve Thorp.

"My involvement with Peter started when were both representing Calthorpe for Labour at district and county level in the 1980s. What a good kind caring man he was - a really gentle man - also fiercely committed to the cause he was involved in. He was one of the stalwarts of the community and the Labour Party," said Mr Thorp.

"Because he worked at the Horton he was involved in Banbury Health Emergency with Sue Edgar and me and others. He was our main consultant who we used as an information-giver. He was highly intelligent, always willing to get information, to make sure we had the right contacts - he was an enabler. He'd be on the front line talking to the press and everyone else as well.

Dr Peter Fisher, second from left, with his colleagues in the legal team of the KTHG. The group took High Court action over downgrading at the Horton General Hospital

"He was vastly respected across the political and medical spectrum. He had that kind of authority within the Horton. He said what he wanted to say and was untouchable."

Peter Fisher retired in 1997 aged 65 but never gave up political campaigning. His work to protect the Horton continued with KTHG. One of the highlights of that campaign was winning a battle to prevent a full-scale downgrade of the hospital when Health Secretary Alan Johnson confirmed the Independent Reconfiguration Panel's view that Oxford was too far away for Banbury patients to travel for acute services.

KTHG member Jenny Jones said: "We joined KTHG after a rally in the People's Park, during that 2006 - 2008 campaign, followed by viewing a webcast of a council meeting where Peter was presenting the issue of loss of maternity and paediatrics on his own. He said that he had expected to be joined by other clinicians but no-one else had turned up. Nevertheless he forged ahead. We will miss his medical expertise but we will also miss his determination."

Keith Strangwood, chairman of KTHG said: "A life lived without caring about others is a life wasted and Peter spend almost all his life caring about others in some way or other. He was the voice of reason."

Sophie Hammond, KTHG maternity officer, said: "This is terribly sad; what a great loss. It isn’t just his vital medical knowledge and experience we’re going to miss. His clear-sighted, fair-mindedness and diplomacy were great assets to the campaign. He was the embodiment of 'If' by Rudyard Kipling. He will always be an inspiration to me."

Peter Trewby of Doctors for the NHS said: "I know from hearsay that he was an immensely hard-working Physician of the old style, taking a holistic approach to the patient.

"He was always passionate about the NHS and in 1976 was one of the founding members of the NHS Consultants’ Association which in 2014 became Doctors for the NHS as it expanded to welcome all doctors.

"He was made Chair and subsequently President for life. He worked tirelessly to campaign for the NHS as a publicly funded, publicly accountable and publicly provided service. He saw the artificial separation of the NHS into 'providers' and 'purchasers' as a complete anathema to the founding principles of the NHS.

"He saw the split as only serving to drain money into NHS bureaucracy. He saw the NHS as the world’s greatest ever example of a population agreeing to provide care for its sick, exemplifying to him the essence of civilised society.

"He was passionate in his desire to preserve the ethos of the NHS. He worked tirelessly to recruit members to the Association, writing to doctors throughout the United Kingdom from his office in his daughter's bedroom.

"With Covid and lockdown he remained as active as ever, embracing Zoom technology and appearing at meetings often accompanied by his cat, whose purring sometimes drowned out other participants. Still active to the end, at his last meeting, three weeks before his death, he spoke passionately about the need to address the manpower shortages in the NHS," said Mr Trewby.

"His wisdom, humanity and abundant common sense were apparent in everything he did and were an inspiration to so many. Doctors for the NHS is proud to have had him as leader and exemplar over so many years. He will be much missed."

Dr Eric Watts, retired consultant and chair of NHSCA from 2014 - 2017 said: "Peter Fisher and colleagues decided to form the National Health Consultants' Association in 1976 as they believed that the British Medical Association (BMA) was putting too much emphasis on private practice and not enough on building up the NHS and that there needed to be a doctors' organisation to champion the health service.

"Since that time the BMA position has changed. We will never know to what extent they may have felt the need to recognise that doctors committed to the NHS felt the need to set up a separate organisation.

"Peter Fisher engaged with many politicians; he and other committee members of NHSCA would often be invited to the House of Commons to present our views and evidence to MPs including secretaries of state. I recall meeting Frank Dobson and Alan Milburn.

"Peter was the ideal exemplar not only in respect of his skill in motivating and channeling the energies of people who shared his views but also in the amount of sheer hard graft that he put in himself.

"I recall him speaking of the work that he did writing to every newly qualified consultant for a period of time to advise them of our activities. He wrote to anyone who could help the cause; he spoke at local and national meetings and engaged with politicians tirelessly.

"I recall one anecdote relating to cooperation with doctors from other countries. A doctor from a prestigious medical organisation in Spain mentioned that he would be in the UK and could he take the liberty of meeting Peter in his office at NHSCA headquarters?

"Peters' reply was that he would be very welcome but the office might not be as prestigious as the visitor was hoping for. It was in fact the bedroom that his daughter vacated when she left home. He never mentioned if he had to move the typewriter, photocopier and assembled equipment out when she came back to visit.

"It was typical of the man that after he retired from clinical practice he decided that he should stand down as chairman as he felt it most important that the chair was actually a working consultant. Therefore we created the post of president, specifically to keep him in a leadership position.

"Those of us who have followed him as chair soon realised what an enormous challenge we are facing and the fact that he seemed to do it with effortless grace is another testament to his uniqueness."

A Requiem Mass will be celebrated at the Catholic Church of St John the Evangelist, South Bar, Banbury, on Tuesday, August 24 at 11:30am, followed by interment at Claydon Church.

Family flowers only although there will be a retiring collection in aid of Médecins sans Frontières; Donations may also be made online at www.humphrisfunerals.co.uk or sent by post to Humphris Funerals, 32 Albert Street, Banbury. OX16 5DG. No black or sombre attire to be worn please, by request of Dr Peter Fisher.