Looking back... and beyond the UK

RCPCH has a long heritage of looking beyond the UK. In this history blog, we look at our international links over the years.
Image of BPA members and hosts with caption 'Visit to Sweden, May 31-June 5th, 1948'
BPA visit to Sweden, 1948 | Archive Reference: RCPCH-004-004-063

RCPCH and its predecessor organisation the British Paediatric Association (BPA) have had extensive international elements almost since inception, including corresponding members, involvement in international organisations, relations with overseas paediatric societies and training of overseas doctors.

The first BPA overseas visit was likely in September 1931 at the ‘Save the Children Union’ meeting at the Hague, followed by Professor Görter of Leiden University, Netherlands, being the first overseas resident to address the BPA in 1937. He spoke on 'The Nutritive Food Requirements during the First Year of Life'.

Corresponding members were invited to the BPA in 1934, with paediatricians from France, Germany, Canada, USA, South Africa and Australia soon joining. One of the earliest corresponding members was Professor Aevid Wallgren from Sweden. In 1948 Professor Wallgren invited 30 BPA members to his department in Stockholm and held a banquet in a castle in Uppsala. As part of the festivities a member of the British delegation gave a speech, although unfortunately referred to the wrong Scandinavian country throughout!

Twenty-five Swedish paediatricians visited the BPA the following year and attended the annual conference in Windemere.

Image of BPA members in Swedish language newspaper
A Swedish newspaper publishes a story about the British doctors' visit | Archive Reference: RCPCH-004-001-001

International visits continued, with Dutch guests in 1951 and French guests in 1952, and a visit by the BPA to the Swiss Paediatric Society in Berne in 1960. By the 1980s the BPA President was regularly invited to meetings of foreign paediatric societies and associations in other countries.

As well as visits to other national societies, there were visits to international societies too. The Sixth International Paediatric Congress was held in Zurich in 1950. A number of BPA members attended, with talks by Sir James Spence and Sir Alan Moncrieff warranting mention in The Times newspaper.

Newspaper clippings about talks by Spence and Moncrieff below caption 'International Paediatric Congress 1950, The Times'
The Times writes about BPA members' talks at the 1950 International Paediatric Congress in Zurich | Archive Reference: RCPCH-004-005-010

Individual members also had significant roles overseas. Professor Derrick Jelliffe, based in Uganda, was a corresponding member and in 1962 delivered the Windemere Lecture on ‘Scientific Paediatrics in Developing Regions: Problems, Perspectives and Progress’. Jelliffe was a renowned paediatrician, known amongst other things for having later coined the phrase 'commerciogenic malnutrition' to describe infant starvation caused by the inappropriate promotion of baby formula.

Dr Cicely Williams received the James Spence Medal for her contributions in the field of tropical paediatrics. Born in 1893, Williams travelled widely and worked in refugee camps in Greece and Palestine, discovered kwashiorkor (a nutritional disease) in Accra, Ghana, became a dietician, and ran a health care centre in Singapore. She was appointed the first Head of the Maternal and Child Health section of the World Health Organisation. Williams’ influence was such that two biographies were written about her during her lifetime.

Image of two biographies about Cicely Williams
Two books about Dr Cicely Williams | RCPCH Library

In 1954, a year before being elected a member of the BPA, Cicely Williams suggested that paediatricians from Commonwealth countries should be given more opportunities for training in the UK. Six months later the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations asked the BPA to nominate a medical advisor for such training.

The Heinz Fellowship began in 1961 and enabled paediatricians from Commonwealth countries to visit UK paediatric centres and attend the annual conference, and shortly after for British Paediatricians to pursue research projects overseas. Today, the Ashok Nathwani Visiting Fellowship, Donald Court Travel Fund and David Baum Visiting Fellowship still enable leading paediatricians and paediatric nurses from low-and middle-income countries to visit UK clinical centres where they can develop their knowledge and exchange good practice.

The BPA’s Overseas Committee was established in 1963. In its first two years the committee reviewed postgraduate education of British graduates in tropical paediatrics and arrangements for secondment of senior registrars overseas. In 1968 The Overseas Committee published the first edition of a booklet Paediatric Training in the United Kingdom for visiting paediatricians from abroad, which had many later editions.

Images of two editions of the pamphlet 'Paediatric Training in the United Kingdom'
Early editions of Paediatric Training in the United Kingdom | RCPCH Library

Since becoming a Royal College, RCPCH’s international activity has expanded further. David Baum, RCPCH President from 1997 until his death in 1999, established an International Task Force on Children Affected by War and Absolute Poverty to supply paediatricians to non-governmental and other organisations working with children in conflict situations.

RCPCH Global has since established significant operations, working internationally to train, mentor and advise on a wide range of medical issues which affect infant and childcare services worldwide.

Image of two publications by RCPCH Global
RCPCH Global reports on our impact and programmes | RCPCH Archives: ACC 2022/00010

You can find more information about the history of the RCPCH. Our archives contain records of our history as the British Paediatric Association (BPA) and a Royal College, and of the history of child health. We welcome enquiries from our members and the public.

If you have any questions or you would like to access our archives, please contact us at information.governance@rcpch.ac.uk.