Richard Feinmann on winning a BMJ Group award

Richard Feinmann

I suppose I could be accused of banging on too much about doctors volunteering at the end of their career. But now I have another reason.

At my age, I thought the days of national and international meetings were long gone. So, what a surprise to find myself at the Hilton on Park Lane with my wife in a lovely new dress and about 500 of the great and good in medicine, for one of the best evenings of my life.

I’m never quite sure how anybody can afford to live in London. The Hilton does not come cheap but they certainly know how to put on a good do with lashings of champagne and an excellent meal. I was a little nervous about being on the same table as the others who had been shortlisted for the same award as the group I was representing, but the wine flowed and everything was very cordial.

This is the third year of the BMJ Group awards and there are 13 categories, or maybe 12 and one special lifetime award. I was nominated for the “getting evidence into practice” award for the work I did as a VSO volunteer working at International Hospital in Kampala. The story began with Dr Mark Russell, another VSO volunteer, persuading the hospital to build a category 3 TB laboratory. Then my friend Dr Grania Brigden, another VSOer, applied for funding for a research project from a UK charity called Target TB. The funding allowed us to culture the sputum of 500 HIV patients for TB. Culture is rarely done in Uganda because of cost but our MOTS test had been shown to be cheap and quick in Peru. I completed this phase of the work and set up Phase 2 looking at not only culturing but also checking drug sensitivities on a further 300 patients. We were now looking at our own clients using outreach staff and volunteers to find people who had a productive cough for more than 3 weeks. Having proved the test worked, the project has now been handed over to Ugandans and since 2009 over 1000 HIV sufferers have been tested and more than 50% have TB. Fortunately we found a very low incidence of drug resistance. 

So there I was, slightly pickled with champagne and thinking about my good friends in Uganda – over 100 Ugandan volunteers, Bosco in the lab, Dr Ian Clarke and Kevin Duffy who run the charity that employed me at International Hospital, Deborah my TB nurse, and Helen and Jemimah who carefully stretched out the funding from Target TB. Suddenly Gavin Esler, who was hosting the evening, announced that they were going to open the envelope to find the winner for my category.

It was a bit like the Oscars, especially as Hugh Grant was sitting on the next table. And the winner is; “Dr Richard Feinmann.” The champagne anaesthetic dramatically disappeared and from the back of the room I went up to receive our prize. I hope I managed to make it clear in my short speech that I was just a small cog in the team and paid tribute to them all but my memory is slightly blurred.

The only downside was that this was a team effort and the team could not be there. All our work was done with charitable monies and getting them all to the Hilton was not possible.

But what a great evening. Thank you BMJ.

Richard Feinmann is a 63 year old general and chest physician who retired a bit early after a serious health scare. He felt he had more to give and jumped at the chance to work with his health visitor wife in Uganda.