Thomas Boulton OBE

St Peter's School

Thomas Boulton OBE

1925 to 2016 (Rise 1940 – 1943)

Old Peterite, Thomas Babbington Boulton, a modernising anaesthetist who helped found the Royal College of Anaesthetists, sadly passed away this summer. We take a look back at his time at St Peter’s and some of his many remarkable achievements in the medical profession.

Thomas Boulton was born on 2 November 1925 in Bishop Auckland and he attended St Peter’s School from 1940 to 1943, where he became “senior scientist” of the school, winning the BMA Medal.  Heavily influenced by his three great grandfathers and grandfather, all of whom were doctors, Thomas went on himself to study medicine at Cambridge University.

During his time here at St Peter’s, he was a member of Rise House and was also L/Cpl (Signals) in the Junior Training Corps, in the Home Guard Platoon (West Yorkshire) and Honorary Secretary of the Science Society – all roles in which he described himself  as being undistinguished! 

One memory he had shared with us in recent years was of a boy called Ainley being taken up by a crane and pulley in a cement bucket to inspect the Chapel’s bell tower for damage following an air raid!

In 1950 Thomas joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in the “Malaysian emergency”.  Responsible for 6,000 men, Thomas was the only qualified anaesthetist between Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.  It was during this period, when there were no gas cylinders available after a flood, that Thomas discovered the possibility of using the “draw over” procedure for anaesthesia. Using ambient air, rather than compressed gas as the carrier, and using any kind of container he discovered, it is possible to make a vaporiser which allowed for safe anaesthesia in the absence of hospital equipment.

Thomas was instrumental in setting up a course on anaesthesia in developing countries and he helped develop the Triservice anaesthetic machine for use in the field.  It was adopted by the British Army and used in the Falklands war.

At St Bartholomew’s Hospital, he brought in the first intensive care unit for post-operative patients.  His other innovations included leading a resuscitation service for the whole hospital and creating an improved way to anaesthetise dental patients.

In the 1972 Thomas became the editor of Anaesthesia and was later president of the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland (AAGBI) from 1984-86.  He also joined negotiations to break with the Royal College of Surgeons and create a separate Royal College of Anaesthetists.

On retiring from the NHS in 1990, Thomas was appointed president of the History of Anaesthesia Society and became the AAGBNI’s archivist.  In 1999, he also published a 700-page history of the AAGBI which earned him a MD from Cambridge University.  Thomas Boulton was awarded the OBE for services to medicine in 1991 and is survived by his wife Helen, their daughter Angela and two sons, Adam and James.