A hugely popular consultant oncologist has retired from Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust leaving a treatment legacy that has changed the lives of breast and gynaecology patients.
Dr Indrajit Fernando, 61, is moving on after 24 years but can be proud of his achievements after leading a dramatic improvement of patient survival rates for breast, cervical, and ovarian cancers and a world record clinical trial.
Dr Fernando was chief investigator for the SECRAB Trial, which recruited 2,300 women from 1998-2004 to determine whether combining chemotherapy and radiotherapy was best at preventing recurrence of breast cancer and if it was safe to give the two treatments together, a process called sequencing. Not only was the trial the largest of its kind in the world, but the biggest number of recruits came from Walsall.
“The biggest achievement in my time here is that the survival rates for breast cancer and ovarian cancer have increased dramatically,” said Dr Fernando. “The clinical trial helped us achieve something really important and if I hadn’t have come to Walsall the trial wouldn’t have got done – the people were so supportive. Our patients are now surviving much longer than they used to.”
Having started as a consultant in 1995, Dr Fernando, who was born in Sri Lanka – where he says his surname is ‘as common as Smith here’ – joined Walsall Healthcare two years later from the Royal Marsden Hospital in West London, where he had been research registrar.
“I’ve had a lovely time here,” he added. “It’s a fantastic hospital with wonderful staff and a real family atmosphere. I’ve had many happy years here and have thoroughly enjoyed my time. It’s been wonderful for my career and it’s been a great pleasure working with everyone. There have been a lot of changes – when I first started here we were working out of one room – but what hasn’t changed is the staff; everyone is really hardworking and takes pride in their work.”
Long-term colleagues of Dr Fernando were keen to pay tribute to him.
Gynaecology Clinical Nurse Specialist Carol Smith, who has worked with Dr Fernando for nine of her 19 years with the trust, said: “He is very charismatic and very caring. He’s been a very good support to me and fought my corner. He’s always been there for me to take advice from if I’m concerned about a patient, and I have the greatest respect for him. He’s a lovely man who has a sixth sense about patients.”
Karen Brown, a Clinical Support Worker with 44 years’ service and colleague of Dr Fernando’s for his entire Walsall career, added: “He goes above and beyond for his patients and supports staff as well – you could always go to him on a personal level. He also has a lovely sense of humour.”
Sister Emma Giles, who has worked with Dr Fernando for six years, said: “He will be missed by everyone. He reassured people and had very good relationships with staff and patients. He’s also a very good teacher and always had time for everyone.”
After one of his final shifts last week, Dr Fernando was presented with a personalised wallet containing a donation, as well as a large signed card from staff, who enjoyed a socially distanced celebration buffet with him.
He won’t be winding down his career just yet however – he plans to continue working at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham, and Solihull Hospital, on a virtually full-time basis for the next two or three years. But as a keen reader of ancient history – particularly Persian, Greek and Roman – he intends to one day become a volunteer at the British Museum in London. He also intends spending more time at home in Edgbaston with wife Debbie, a retired oncology nurse, and daughter Francesca, 19, who is studying history and sociology at Manchester University.