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Churchill: Heart attack in 1941 concealed 

National leaders are usually middle-aged or older and at risk of disabling diseases. They may deny their illnesses and persuade their staff and doctors to lie to the public. There is a considerable literature on this topic, including the former Foreign Secretary David Owen's In Sickness and in Power: Illness in Heads of Government During the Last 100 Years (Methuen, 2008). Lord Owen, himself a doctor, listed 26 leaders including Hitler, Yeltsin and Blair whose health problems were concealed from the public.

In the 20th century, Britain had 19 Prime Ministers, nine of whom had their terms of office curtailed by illness. 

Three PMs from 1940 to 1957 — Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee and Anthony Eden — were looked after either at St Mary's Hospital, London, or by my predecessors there as senior physicians-gastroenterologists such as Sir Charles Wilson (later Lord Moran) and Dr Thomas Hunt. Each of the three premiers had historically important illnesses before they assumed office. 

Winston Churchill had chronic minor and non-disabling indigestion at least from 1912 when he had stomach pains that woke him with the acid regurgitation of heartburn. He was treated conventionally with ulcer-type
diets and carbonates of sodium, magnesium and bismuth. In 1950, he recalled that he had been "tortured" by his indigestion, but had been cured by massage. 

In 1922, he saw Lord Dawson. In 1936, he saw Hunt. Educated at St Paul's, Magdalen, St Mary's and Vienna, Hunt was an orator and a linguist. He had stature, authority, courtesy, enthusiasm and curiosity and was the diplomat of British and world gastroenterology. He joined the staff of St Mary's in 1930 and his advice was sought by many writers, whose vivid accounts of their illnesses are excellent. Churchill wrote: "The indigestion comes on during the night but disappears after the exercises in the morning. Painting always tries me highly...It is the mental concentration which seems to affect the stomach. I always paint standing up, as otherwise the indigestion would be very severe." Churchill told Hunt: "The thing that gave most indigestion was the effort of trying to get just the right colour for a sunset on a canvas and not the strain of political and national affairs." 

X-rays of his stomach, duodenum and gall bladder revealed that everything was normal. Hunt concluded that the indigestion was of the nervous hyperacidity type, telling Churchill that his nervous tension caused painful contractions of the stomach. Hunt taught, "All creative artists are a group especially subject to dyspepsias of doubt and anxiety...My experience of generals and admirals makes me believe that their training for action relieves them of most doubts, except from that concerning their future promotion." 

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Anne Elborn
May 24th, 2012
9:05 PM
A very interesting article. Are you te Jeremy Baron I met at Alan Small's house in the early 50's@ I stillhave a book by Heine that you gave me

Dr Roderick Neilson
July 27th, 2011
9:07 PM
I think the post by 'anonymous' says more about him or her than it's content does. I worked for the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland for 5 years. The use of clinical records by MDOs in medical negligence and GMC cases is covered by legal privilege, not patient confidentiality. If a doctor is accused of negligence or serious professional misconduct they have a right in law to access to relevant clinical records to answer the case made against them. As for the allegation that MDOs, lawyers and courts falsify and distort records, that smacks of sour grapes and failed litigation by Anonymous rather than fact.

January 23rd, 2011
4:01 AM
If Dr Neilson above was an advisor to a medical defence oragnisation (MDO), then he would know what a joke patient confidentiality is. MDOs routinely instruct doctors, expert witnesses and lawyers through the MDO medico-legal advisors to collude, with deliberate deception, against medical malpractice patients by falsifying their medical records, tests and radiographs. The Spine helps with this abuse of privacy, as do all electronic computer medical records. This deception and abuse of process goes all the way from the MDOs to the prejudiced rulings of medical boards and court judges.

Dr Roderick Neilson
December 7th, 2009
7:12 PM
I write as a practising consultant and a previous medical adviser to a UK Medical Defence Organisation. If Dr Baron is to believed St Mary's Hospital Medical School teaches and practices lower standards in relation to patient confidentiality than the Scottish University I attended. It is a step too far to suggest that the chequered medical histories of past politicians, all of whom are conveniently dead and thus cannot complain, means the public has a right to know the medical histories of current or would be current ones. I have little sympathy for most politicians but the fact they are politicians does not mean they have a lesser right to medical confidentiality than ordinary people. Neither does it mean that the GMC's position on medical confidentiality does not apply to their doctors. I'm sorry but Dr Baron's view that different standards should apply as regards confidentiality when politicians are patients is unethical and intrusive. Dr Roderick Neilson Consultant Haematologist

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