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John Warburton Thompson
  1. Jacqueline Filshie
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jacqueline Filshie, Royal Marsden Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Sutton, Surrey, UK; Jacqueline.filshie{at}

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MB BS PhD FRCP, 1924–2012

It is with a very great personal sense of loss and deep sadness among all in BMAS who knew John that we learned of his death aged 88 on 27 November 2012.

John was a highly respected senior and Honorary member of the British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS) who had been an active contributor to the main committee, as well as serving on the research and accreditation committees and lecturing to scientific meetings. He made an enormous contribution to the society over many years. Embedded Image

Born on 7 November 1924 in East London at Guy's Hospital, he decided at the early age of seven that he wanted to study medicine. He was a choral scholar at the City of London School and studied medicine at The London Hospital, gaining honours in surgery, forensic medicine and public health. He retained a forensic, scientific approach to each area of clinical and academic work that he pursued as a researcher, editor and lecturer of great national and international repute.

He served in Sri Lanka from 1949 to 1951 in the RAF Medical Corps, and after his return trained as a pharmacologist at University College Hospital. He then studied further at the Royal College of Surgeons in the Pharmacology Department, working alongside Sir John Vane, a future Nobel Prize winner. He wrote a PhD thesis on the chemical transfer between postganglionic sympathetic fibres and smooth muscle. In 1961 he was appointed senior lecturer at St George's Hospital, London, and then Professor of Pharmacology at Newcastle University in 1964 when he finally found time to marry a vivacious social worker, Judy, in 1969.

He carried out seminal research on a number of topics including the autonomic nervous system, psychotropic drugs and dental pharmacology, together with pioneering work on cannabinoids and he developed a lasting interest in chronic pain. He studied transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) methodically before he became interested in acupuncture—particularly electroacupuncture—after being impressed by Jisheng Han's work in Beijing. He was awarded an honorary degree of Master of Chinese Medicine from Taiwan. John was an early advocate for the multidisciplinary approach to pain management which has become standard in his lifetime. He was an esteemed member of the British Pain Society and was awarded honorary status for his outstanding contribution to the understanding of pain and its management.

In 1989 he became the Director of Medical Studies at St Oswald's Hospice in Gosforth and also honorary consultant because of his keen interest in palliative care aiming to end pain and suffering for patients. Although he retired from the NHS in 1990, he continued to work tirelessly in the field of chronic pain, particularly with acupuncture and TENS, always aiming to learn new things. He continued to lecture, publish and contribute academically until shortly before his death.

He was adept at making the neurophysiology of acupuncture and TENS accessible to a wider audience in lucid lectures and in various chapters and papers. He possessed a great gift of being able to make complicated neurophysiological mechanisms understandable to all, starting with a simple explanation and building up in easy steps. His neurophysiological summary diagram to show how acupuncture and TENS work, published in successive editions of the Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine, is a classic and has become the gold standard. This clarity gained him huge respect from medical audiences around the world including the acupuncture fraternity.

He co-authored six chapters with me on TENS and acupuncture since 1993. He was well-known for working slowly and methodically, and noted every microscopic imperfection in any of my texts! His careful and meticulous attention to detail helped to earn him the academic accolade he thoroughly deserved. He was a true role model for anyone with an academic interest in acupuncture.

He was blessed with a wonderful family, and when his children were young they travelled round the world with him. He is survived by Judy and two married children—Jonathan, an agricultural lawyer, and Georgie, an anaesthetist in Melbourne—and three grandchildren.

He had many non-medical interests; he played the piano and organ and very much enjoyed photography. He had the home office of a boffin with hundreds of papers everywhere, but he always referred to it as organised chaos!

I think about him very often and miss his deep sincerity, strength, friendship, compassion and humour. I was greatly privileged to have known and worked with him over the years. Indeed, few doctors can compare with him for his outstanding long and devoted vocational approach to work, which places him among the highest level of both national and international academic professionals.

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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