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BMJ. 2007 August 4; 335(7613): 264.
PMCID: PMC1939795

Jonathan Pritchard

Pioneer in treating childhood cancer

Following house jobs at St Thomas's, Jon Pritchard developed his interest in paediatrics and trained at Alder Hey Children's Hospital and in Boston, leading to a consultant appointment at Great Ormond Street Hospital in 1977. Paediatric oncology was a rapidly emerging specialty and he was a founder member of the newly formed United Kingdom Children's Cancer Study Group. He had a particular interest in kidney and liver tumours, as well as being a leading expert in Langerhans cell histiocytosis, founding the Histiocyte Society. He was always willing to challenge perceived wisdom. He felt passionately about his patients and would never allow them to give up hope that a new treatment might help. However, he always counselled them not to seek expensive treatments abroad and would often say to desperate parents: “Do you think we doctors don't talk to each other?”

He was the author of over 130 papers, and for many years was editor of the paediatric section of the European Journal of Cancer, bringing to it a new vigour. He loved controversy, and the advanced paediatric oncology courses which he set up were a wonderful forum for young people from all over the world to learn from experts and to take part in debates on controversial issues of the day.

Born in Manchester, where his mother was a paediatrician and father an electrical engineer, he went to Manchester Grammar School.

Jon loved classical music and was a proficient photographer. He was most proud of his achievements of having five of his pictures published in the New England Journal of Medicine and in the annual exhibition of photography and art at the Royal College of Physicians in London.

At Cambridge he captained the lacrosse team and played regularly for England. He enjoyed tennis and would always arrive at international meetings complete with racquet.

His ability to write verse was extraordinary. Often at the end of a meeting he would disappear for 10 minutes and come back with several verses of most appropriate and relevant poetry. This could also on occasion be set to music , usually “Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud,” and if there was a piano available a sing song would ensue. He used these skills to great effect in staff concerts.

When in Boston, Jon had seen Ronald MacDonald houses, which had been established so that parents could stay close by when their children were in hospital. On returning to London he was instrumental in setting up the Sick Children's Trust, harnessing the energy of parents and Audrey Callaghan, who was then chairman of the governors. The actor Michael Crawford is the patron and continues to take a real interest in the trust, which now has an annual income of £1.2m and provides houses connected to seven of the major children's centres across the United Kingdom.

Early in his career at Great Ormond Street a patient was referred to him by one of the paediatric surgeons. He had operated and found her to have a widely disseminated ovarian tumour. Conventional wisdom said that little could be done. Jon had just returned from a meeting in Turkey, where he had heard of a new drug, cisplatin, which was being used with promising results to treat ovarian cancer in adults. He managed to obtain some of the new drug and used it for the first time in children. The patient is now a healthy adult who has her own child. Jon would always go the extra mile for his patients.

His ability to harness the power of parents was also demonstrated by his setting up of the Neuroblastoma Society, which is now a major national charity funding projects all over the United Kingdom.

Jon leaves his wife, Ann; his children; and five stepchildren.

Jonathan Pritchard, paediatric oncologist, Edinburgh (b 1942; q Cambridge/St Thomas's Hospital, London, 1966; FRCP), died from a brain tumour on 20 January 2007.


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