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Women in medicine: Fiona Caldicott and Helen Boyle

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The Women in medicine project showcases a number of today’s leading female clinicians and the women from the history of medicine who have inspired them. 

Dame Fiona Caldicott is one of the most influential clinicians of recent times. The first woman to serve as dean and president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, her work has spanned academia, as principal of Somerville College, Oxford; public policy, as chairman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges; and service provision, as chair of Oxford University Hospitals.  

Working initially in general practice, Fiona took advantage of reforms that allowed part-time hospital-based training in clinical specialisms. This enabled her to attain membership of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and to be appointed to senior clinical and teaching posts.  

In 1996, she was made chair of the eponymous Caldicott Committee on patient identifiable data in the NHS. The principles and practices identified through Dame Fiona’s work continue to guide practitioners and safeguard patients’ privacy to the present day. She was awarded a DBE in 1996.

Shaped by her early experiences as a medical officer in London asylums, Helen Boyle went on to revolutionise mental healthcare. She was a pioneer of early treatment, and the 'head and heart' of the groundbreaking Lady Chichester Hospital in Brighton for more than half a century.

Fiona Caldicott on her inspiration Helen Boyle

Dr Helen Boyle (1869–1957) is a unique figure in the history of mental healthcare, and the city of Brighton and Hove. She was one of the first women to be active in psychiatry and one of the south coast’s first female doctors.

Born in Dublin, Helen was educated in France and Germany before returning to the UK to attend the London School of Medicine for Women. She graduated in 1893, later receiving her MD, with distinction, from Brussels.

Appointed assistant medical officer at Claybury Asylum, Dr Boyle was the first psychiatrist to observe the prevalence of dysentery among patients. Next, as superintendent at Canning Town Mission Hospital, she identified that it was impossible to obtain suitable treatment for individuals until they were certified insane.

Moving to general practice in Hove, Sussex (with her close friend, Dr Mabel Jones), she set about reforming local mental health services. Her establishment, in 1897, of what became the Lady Chichester Hospital for the Treatment of Early Mental Disorders was seminal. For the first time, treatment was available to patients before crisis.

Dr Helen Boyle ran the hospital until 1948; she served in the First World War in Serbia, for which she was decorated with the order of St Sava. During these decades, she was a founder of the Medical Women’s Federation, the Child Guidance Council and the National Council for Mental Hygiene (now Mind). She was also the first female president of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association, the forerunner of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.