Willy Notcutt – exceptional doctor and Christian
Tributes have been paid to Dr William ‘Willy’ Notcutt, retired senior consultant anaesthetist who was also a committed Christian. Tony Mallion describes his remarkable life.
Dr Notcutt was well known at the James Paget Hospital as a campaigner for the medicinal use of cannabis and for his pioneering developments in pain management. He died at the hospital on May 31 at the age of 74 . As well as been described as ‘an exceptional doctor’ he was a committed Christian.
William Notcutt was born in Ipswich, a member of the Notcutt garden centre family. After qualifying from Birmingham University and working as a flying doctor in Lesotho, Dr Notcutt took up anaesthesia. In 1975 he started work at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica where he met his wife Nov who was a nurse.
They returned to the UK in 1979, where William worked in Nottingham before becoming consultant anaesthetist and one of the founders of the new anaesthetic department at the James Paget Hospital in Great Yarmouth in 1982 at the age of 36.
His particular interest was in pain management. He said ‘no one should suffer from pain after surgery – or at all’. He expanded the pain relief and back pain service and later led a fund raising campaign for a new pain management clinic and research centre within the hospital.
In 1985 he started and developed the Palliative Care Service working with MacMillan nurses and later including specialist doctors. This also led to the building of the Louise Hamilton Centre which opened next to the hospital in 2013 providing support and help for those with cancer and other life-threatening conditions. In retirement he continued as one its trustees.
He believed in a good quality of palliative care for those who were terminally ill, promoting the concept of palliative care and support at home as well as in hospital and hospices. He also advocated doctors being well educated in palliative care, something he felt wasn’t always the case.
In 1986 Dr Notcutt pioneered patient-controlled analgesia which allowed patients to administer their own relief for severe pain after surgery. This was new to the UK and the hospital was one of the first to trial it. Long-serving retired Consultant General Surgeon Hugh Sturzaker said: ‘At one stage the hospital had more patient-controlled analgesia units than any other in the country and colleagues were coming from London to see how they worked. Willy did more than anyone else to put the James Paget on the map.’
It was in the early 1990s that Dr Notcutt began his work with cannabis which was to bring him and the Paget even more attention. He started with a synthetic version to treat pain which would not respond to other drugs and in 2000 launched the world’s first clinical trials of a purified cannabis medicinal extract which was particularly effective for sufferers of multiple sclerosis.
He published a number of papers and book chapters on the subject as well as regularly speaking at national and international meetings and conferences. He appeared on TV and radio and was featured in a BBC Panorama programme.
Dr Notcutt was elected chairman of the International Association for Cannabis Medicines and in 2011 received an award for clinical research into cannabinoids. He was a founder member and first chairman of the British Pain Society Special interest Group on Philosophy and Ethics. He chaired the regional Palliative Care Working Party and was medical advisor to the Macmillan Nursing Team. He also helped established a pain management charity.
William was heavily involved in education, and keen to encourage young people. From 1997 he was a Senior Lecturer at the UEA medical school which he had helped to establish. In 2000 he began an annual ‘Introduction to Health Care’ weekend for sixth form students interested in a career in medicine. As a result, over the years a number became doctors, nurses or have gone into other branches of the health service. He was also a governor of the East Norfolk Sixth Form College in Gorleston.
Dr Notcutt was one of the founders of Cliff Park Community Church which was set up in 1999 by St Andrew’s parish and Gorleston Baptist churches in a school opposite the James Paget Hospital.
The Rev Mike Simm, minister of Cliff Park Community Church for 17 years until his recent move to Bury St.Edmunds commented: ‘Everyone at church knew that Willy was an eminent anaesthetist but what distinguished him in our eyes was his humility. He would regularly turn up at 7.30am on a Sunday morning to help set up the church in the school hall. After services he would also talk to church members about their illnesses even though he could have played the “I’m off duty card”.’
He added that people appreciated the way Willy would lead prayers: ‘He was also a thoughtful pray-er. During a Sunday service he would frequently open a broadsheet newspaper and pray through the news.’
Following retirement in 2014 he continued with many of his interests as well as speaking, writing, and lecturing. He also presented his own programme on the local Harbour Radio. He enjoyed ski-ing, scuba diving and Tai Chi.
James Paget Medical Director Dr Hazel Stuart said: ‘It’s so sad for the world to lose such a wonderful compassionate person, whose combination of expertise and calmness made him an exceptional doctor and such a fantastic colleague.’
Dr Notcutt leaves his wife Nov, three daughters, Tam, Holly-Kim and Mischa, pictured above, and a grandson Zavvi who is also named William. There will be a private family funeral but a memorial service and celebration of his life will be held at a later date. A book of condolence has been opened at the James Paget Hospital chapel.
The photos are by kind permission of Holly-Kim Notcutt.