Mike Gordon – obituary

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Mike Gordon – obituary

Michael Gordon (1938-2024)

Michael (Mike) Gordon, who died aged 86 on 10th February 2024, was a career advocate and enabler of early clinical health services computerisation.

He was born in Wimbledon to shopkeepers Naomi and Lewis and was the first member of his family to go to university. A grammar school boy, he earned an exhibition to Cambridge to read physics and pursued that subsequently to an MSc from Imperial College in London. He was drawn to developments in computing and responded to the enthusiasm of Professor Hugh de Wardener at Charing Cross Hospital, London as a lecturer (1973); they developed a patient records system, initially focused on kidney replacement techniques, which suited a predominantly numerical representation. The system was based on minicomputers of the DEC PDP-11 series, to organise, store and present patient management information. It was commercialized at the suggestion of de Wardener and Mike became the MD of Clinical Computing Ltd. (CCL), feeding the expertise of his programmer, Conrad Venn, into clinical applications. The quick choice of patient or file from the numerical keypad, sophisticated enquiry programmes and reconfiguration software were special features. The software allowed computation, data compilation and communication. Complicated treatments were particularly suited to computer characterisation and recording.

This enterprise was adopted especially by regional renal units after 1979, for both dialysis and kidney transplantation, providing the clinical staff and departments with their first taste of significant IT facilitation. Local charities and virements permitted investment in the system, which was not a natural fit to existing hospital IT department expertise, which was focused particularly on hardware. The limitations of early computer capacity engendered a highly condensed and economical software, mimicking the parsimony of NHS clinical resources of the time. The speed of access and outstanding graphics provoked energetic user development of a collaborative user-programmer style, now much envied. The software allowed quite original clinical dimensions, although that put CCL under the pressure of complex maintenance responsibilities. The later addition of text and correspondence reduced the continuous effort of sustaining clinical context. At its apogee, throughout the 1980s, UK renal medicine was the most computerised in Europe. It was the 1995 digital basis of the  UK Renal Registry and subsequently enabled universal kidney patient IT. Notable early adopters and enthusiasts in the UK were Mr Robert Sells (Liverpool), Dr Martin Knapp (Nottingham), Dr Keith Simpson (Glasgow), Prof Terry Feest (Bristol) and Dr Es Will (St James’s, Leeds).

CCL expanded and diversified into other clinical specialties, especially those with complex but standard clinical techniques, like obstetrics, becoming international in scope. It was possible to develop the software to take advantage of technical improvements and to reconfigure the clinical scope. Survival in the marketplace was always challenging and ultimately the company was floated in 2017 and acquired by another software enterprise.

Mike was a wonderful anecdotalist, improviser and observer of human contradictions. He was unfailingly modest about his business expertise, but a sophisticated ruefulness buffered the  frequent NHS procrastinations he had to endure. An untimeliness was his most characteristic, idiosyncrasy. He was always generous and positive, reflected especially perhaps in his love of dogs. He was a gifted pianist, writer, poet, painter and vintage film enthusiast. His memory evokes an enthusiastic engagement and good humour in any opportunistic encounter, an experience his family and friends will always treasure.

His wife predeceased him after a long and trying illness in 2020. He leaves four children and eight grandchildren.


Es Will, Conrad Venn




Last Updated on July 2, 2024 by John Feehally