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Barbara Mary Ansell

Born 1923
Died 2001

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British paediatric rheumatologist, 1923-2001.

Biography of Barbara Mary Ansell

Barbara Mary Ansell was the doyen of paediatric rheumatology in England. In 1997, she received the James Spence Medal. It was presented to her at the University of York by the President, Professor Sir Roy Meadow, At the first Annual Meeting of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. She received the medal for outstanding contributions to the advancement or clarification of paediatric knowledge. Ansell is perticularly recognised for her work in defining different forms of idiopathic arthritis that commence in childhood, and improving their management.

Barbara Ansell was educated at King's High School for Girls in Warwick and studied medicine at Bermingham University, qualifying in 1946, MD with honours in 1969. Her early work and interests were in general medicine and particularly cardiology. In 1951 she was appointed as registrar to Professor Eric Bywaters at the Special Unit for Juvenile Rheumatism at the Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital, Taplow, in Buckinghamshire. In 1962 she was appointed consultant physician in rheumatology at Taplow, with half her sessions in the Medical Research Council Rheumatism Reserach Unit. She wrote many of her early papers with Professor Bywaters.

Besides her position at Taplow, Ansell was appointed to head the Division of Rheumatology at the Clinical Research Centre at Northwick Park Hospital in 1976. She kept her attachment to Taplow until its closure in 1985. She was also an honorary consultant at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street. At Taplow, she developed a classification based on pattern of disease presentation. This formed her MD thesis and is still the basis for the current ILAR classification.

Dr Ansell encountered wards full of severely disabled young people, in bed or in wheelchairs, sitting or lying with fixed deformity, many of them suffering additional ills from the consequences of amyloidosis. The children were cared for kindly, but their families were often far away and parents could visit for, perhaps, two hours a week.

Dr Ansell was one of those who foresaw the need for new treatments. She was in the forefront of most of the clinical trials of drugs that may be used for childhood arthritis and has clarified their safe and effective use. In the late 1960s she led the way with her orthopaedic colleagues in exploring the use of synovectomy and of joint replacement for children.

She retired from the Health Service and the MRC in 1988 but continued in active practice until her final illness.

Barbara Ansell is described as an astute clinician relying on skills of history, examination, experience, and nous. She was usually right, and her memory was legendary. Known for her long hours of work and high standards, she expected a lot from her team. While she could reduce both patients and staff to tears, her laugh was recognised by everyone. Outside medicine she loved entertaining, the opera, and teddy bears.

Barbara Ansell was a renowned lecturer and was an honorary member or fellow of over 16 national and international societies. Among her British honours is that of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, which she received in 1982. She was author of over 360 papers in adult and paediatric rheumatology.

  • James Spence Medallist 1997, Dr Barbara Mary Ansell. [No author listed]
    Archives of Disease in Childhood, October 1997, 77: 279-280.

  • Richard Hull and and Helen Venning:
    Dr Barbara Mary Ansell, CBE, FRCP, FRCS, FRCPCH 1923–2001.
    Archives of Disease in Childhood, 2003, 88: 185.

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