Gavin Cranston Arneil arrow_drop_down

MB,ChB Glasgow (1945) MD Glasgow 1949 DCH 1951 FRCP (Lon) 1968 m 1952 FRCP Glasgow 1964

FAAP hon 1976 FRCPI 1986

b 7 March 1923 d January 21 2018


Gavin Arneil was a paediatrician in Glasgow and a pioneer in the treatment of children with kidney disease. He established the first specialist children’s kidney unit in the UK and went on to found national, European and International paediatric nephrology societies. In the 1950s, there was little that could be done to help children who had kidney failure and most kidney disease was untreatable. By the time of his death it was very rare for children to die of kidney failure and transplantation was very successful leading to virtually normal lives.

Born in Glasgow in 1923, his father a university senior lecturer and mother an infant teacher, he was educated at Jordanhill College School and Glasgow University from 1940-45 where he was also a member of the Home Guard. Then followed national service including 18 months in charge of research at the War Office. He trained in paediatrics in Glasgow under the formidable James Hutchison (Munks Roll;VII;839) . He was appointed as consultant to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children and rapidly developed a special interest in kidney disease, His research led to a better understanding of the underlying pathology of kidney disease by his promotion of the use of kidney biopsy. He was greatly influenced by the pioneering work of Henry Barnett in New York and undertook research into vasopressin, an important substance controlling kidney function which led to a PhD. Steroids were just becoming available to treat a variety of conditions and he defined their use in nephrotic syndrome, helping organise a major international trial. He was also interested in rickets which was a particular problem, especially in the immigrant population in Glasgow and he managed to virtually eliminate this very preventable disease. However a decade later it reappeared in Pakistani adolescents. This was a difficult problem to solve because of poor English language in the Glasgow population. He had an educational cartoon dubbed in Hindi and Urdu which was played between the main feature films in the Cosmo cinema. Rickets disappeared and he also eliminated TB by a coordinated BCG campaign. He was an excellent clinician who always had the child’s best interests at heart.

In 1965 the Royal Hospital for Sick Children was condemned as unfit and dangerous. He led a six man team who relocated all 350 beds to another site in 12 weeks following which he became Chairman of the Commissioning group for the new RHSC at Yorkhill.

Having established Glasgow as a major centre for the study of kidney disease in children he was a founding member of the British Association of Paediatric Nephrology and was a leading figure in the establishment of the European and International Associations, at various times being  Secretary General /Chairman or President of all

When his mentor Hutchison retired as the Samson Gemill Professor of Paediatrics in Glasgow, Arneil was very disappointed not to succeed him although he was awarded a personal chair. As a consequence he turned his efforts internationally becoming the Secretary General then President of the International Pediatric Association, the only Briton ever to hold this high office in its 100 year history. In his presidential term the annual meeting was in the Philippines, a highlight of which was Arneil dancing with Imelda Marcos at the annual dinner. His international work called on him to visit and advise in over 50 countries including many former Iron Curtain countries as well as Biafra during the war, Kampuchean camps, and Bosnia during its troubles.

Although he was a devout Glaswegian with the not uncommon antipathy to colleagues in Edinburgh he joined with Professor John Forfar  from Edinburgh in 1974 to produce Forfar and Arneil, now in its 8th edition as the only non-US major textbook of paediatrics with over 100 contributors and 2000 pages.

In retirement he was a passionate member of the Friends of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs becoming honorary president succeeding Sir Robert Grieve

He was awarded the St Mungo Prize in 1987 which is Glasgow’s highest civic award

He had a good sense of humour, sailed, golfed, gardened, once imported wine, quoted Burns freely and once even successfully treated a sick chimp at Glasgow Zoo. To many he was rather aloof and distant and in his latter years a doctor treating him said that they felt they were in the presence of someone great, an aura that he did little to dispel. He was a large man with very big hands into which tiny babies would disappear when he was examining them. He had a trademark mustache.

He married June in Dunfermline Abbey in 1971 and they had one daughter and two grandchildren all of whom survive him.


Heather Maxwell, Alan Craft