A “phenomenal” doctor who helped lead a worldwide landmark trial in diabetes is retiring from Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust after 61 years’ service.
Dr Alexander Wright, who joined the NHS in 1961 and has been with Walsall Healthcare since 1995, had his final clinic on Monday, November 28, but will continue teaching at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital one day a week.
The UK Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS) was a landmark, randomised, multicentre trial of glycaemic therapies in 5,102 patients with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes, and Dr Wright was on its policy advisory group.
A trial which ran for 20 years from 1977-97 in 23 UK clinical sites, it showed conclusively that the complications of type 2 diabetes, previously often regarded as inevitable, could be reduced by improving blood glucose and/or blood pressure control. Dr Wright described it as his career highlight.
Originally from Sutton Coldfield, Dr Wright began his career as a student diabetes locum house physician at King’s College Hospital in London before joining the medical ophthalmology clinic at Heartlands Hospital, University Hospitals Birmingham.
At Heartlands he was involved in ground-breaking work; when screening the back of the eye in diabetes patients was a pioneering concept, Dr Wright analysed the images, categorising them as low or high risk.
“At King’s I had to do all the insulin for all the patients, which was quite a job,” recalled Dr Wright, who is married to Sue and has two children and two grandchildren.
In a speech before members of the diabetes team who had gathered to say farewell with a retirement buffet, Dr Wright paid tribute to the service at Walsall.
“It’s been a marvellous journey because the teams here are very good – the clinical team, the nursing team, the clinical medical team and the secretarial team,” he said.
“Diabetes has led the way with teamwork, especially the nurses – they are the real powerhouse. I wish you all the best.”
Dr Senthilkumar Krishnasamy, Consultant, has known Dr Wright for seven years and said: “Dr Wright is extremely passionate about retinal screening in diabetes, but for the calibre of person, he is very humble.
“He’s hugely respected and very well liked by everyone. We are very grateful to him and he will be missed greatly.”
Joe Myatt, Diabetes Nurse, has worked in the field for 29 years and has known Dr Wright since the latter started at the Trust.
“It’s been a real privilege to work with him – he’s brilliant. I’ve learned so much from him and Dr Tim Harvey (Consultant Endocrinologist) – far more than from any textbook,” said Joe, who has been with Walsall Healthcare since 1990.
“He’s an incredible clinician – he has an amazing mind, full of information and is so knowledgeable about the subject. It’s testament to him that the amount of citations on the UKPDS is enormous.
“He grew up with older treatments but was at the forefront as new ones came along. I always looked forward to his weekly clinics here on a Wednesday because anything you wanted to know, he had the answer.
“He’s been a phenomenal teacher. The diabetes service at Walsall has always been very good and that’s down to Dr Wright and Tim Harvey, and lots of good people.”
Renowned for his incredible dedication to his work, Dr Wright, who was a keen runner for many years, returned to work just a week after a fall which broke his hip, leading appointments from his wheelchair.
As for his retirement, Dr Wright says he’s “learning to be a carer” to Sue, while he will continue authoring articles on diabetes – he’s already written his autobiography – and tend to his allotment, with his new mug. Other items presented to him were a watch and an executive pen.