Looking back

Sir John Scott, the longest-serving member of MPS’s New Zealand Panel, retired this year

Integrity, perseverance and compassion have been the hallmarks of Sir John Scott’s outstanding career.

From his early investigations into arterial pathophysiology, through his teaching at Auckland University, to his medicolegal work with MPS, and most recently helping turn around Middlemore Hospital, Sir John has time and again demonstrated the highest principles and an unswerving mettle to do the right thing. As Sir John retires from public life, we look back at his career and examine the contribution he has made to MPS and the wider medical community.

Early days

Sir John never thought of becoming a doctor and just drifted into medicine. “I had a maths background and wanted to be an engineer. Schools were closed for 12 weeks because of a polio epidemic and I had the chance to work for an engineer, but decided that it was not for me.” Wanting to try something different, he decided to go to medical school. In his second year of postgraduate studies, Sir John developed an interest in the process leading to atheroma formation in human arteries.

Even at this early stage of his career, he questioned commonly-held views. “I was introduced to a family with arteriosclerosis and it struck me that the process was about protein metabolism, rather than cholesterol, which was the current thinking,” says Sir John. “This interest led me to the UKk to work with leading specialists in Birmingham.” Sir John gained his Doctorate of Medicine for his ground-breaking work in this field.

Return to New Zealand

Sir John and his family returned to New Zealand in the early 1970s. Ready to take on a new challenge, he joined the staff at Auckland University. “I was there in the beginning, helping establish the Department of Medicine. We set up the Faculty, wrote the exams and then had the thrill of seeing the first young graduates go out into the world.”

It was at the University of Auckland that Professor Des Gorman first met Sir John. The now Head of the School was a green medical student back then. The lessons Sir John taught stayed with Prof Gorman through his professional career: “Sir John taught us communication skills. Many of the clinical principles I learnt have been proven wrong, but the communication skills John taught me have never dated.”

The Brych Affair

It was also around this time that Sir John started investigating an infamous case of malpractice, now known as the Brych Affair. Milan Brych conned the medical world into believing he had a cure for cancer. As it turned out, Milan Brych did not even have a medical qualification.

The story of this ten-year debacle reads like a Le Carré novel. While investigating Milan Brych, Sir John went behind the Iron Curtain twice, was arrested in Czechoslovakia and foiled an assassination attempt in Australia.

“Through this period, Sir John had the courage of his convictions and stood his ground. Even though some colleagues doubted his judgment, he persevered with what he knew to be the right course of action – to out Brych,” explains Prof Gorman.

Working with MPS

It was through his medicolegal work that Sir John and MPS formed a relationship. He became involved with MPS in 1979 and in the mid-90s helped set up the first New Zealand advisory panel. At this time he was also given the role of vice-president by MPS head office in London – the last person in New Zealand to hold this important position.

Professor Alan Merry has worked closely with Sir John over the past 15 years. “John is an elder statesman of the panel. He brings an enormous institutional and medical history to discussions and has always spoken honestly and fairly.”

Sir John believes that MPS has played a critical role in the evolution of the medicolegal sphere in New Zealand. “MPS deserves credit for the educational role of its services. They have helped to mould the way lawyers and doctors behave, and helped doctors understand how to conduct their relationships with patients,” he says.

MPS is now an organisation that’s firmly interconnected with the medical profession. And Sir John has played a lead role in taking MPS in this direction. “John is one of the few physicians to truly connect the profession with MPS. He had the foresight to help move MPS into the space it is in now,” says Prof Merry.

Hugh Rennie QC has also worked closely with Sir John for a number of years. “Members need good, wise advice and Sir John has always been generous with his time, skills and talents to help people. He volunteered his time to personally help and advise members. He’s an intelligent and caring man, who helped shape MPS in New Zealand.”

A fond farewell

This short article hasn’t even scratched the surface of Sir John’s achievements – he’s published over 200 papers, sat on numerous boards, worked on the New Zealand Medical Association’s Code of Ethics, was president of the Royal Society of New and played a significant role in the genetic engineering debate, to name a few.

The medical world and MPS in New Zealand have a great deal to thank Sir John for. MPS would like to express gratitude for his tireless work and huge contribution to our organisation. His wisdom, intellect and compassion will be greatly missed.

The author Emma Westwood is a freelance writer in New Zealand.

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