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Remembering Archie

01 December 2008

A fascinating and complex picture of Professor Archie Cochrane emerged as doctors, historians, senior politicians and former colleagues gathered at the University to remember one of the most significant figures in the history of healthcare.

The First Minister for Wales, Rhodri Morgan launched the day of reflections on Professor Cochrane, who pioneered a modern approach to medicine with meticulous studies of lung disease in the mining communities of Rhondda Fach in the 1950s. He died in 1988 and the Cochrane Collaboration – an international database of medical research evidence – was named in his honour.

The First Minister talked about Professor Cochrane’s early experiences in the Spanish Civil War and added: "What he’s best known for is the way he defined and crystallised randomised controlled trials. But Archie Cochrane’s contribution is wider than that – it includes citizen-based medicine, engaging with the patients, equalities in medicine. What I’d really like to see is a film or TV documentary about Archie Cochrane – he had about ten ordinary lives rolled into one."

He was echoed by Welsh Assembly Government health minister Edwina Hart, who talked about the enduring legacy of Professor Cochrane’s most influential work Effectiveness and Efficiency: Random Reflections on the Health Service. She said: "When I look at the NHS, those two words – effectiveness and efficiency – are the two words I keep in mind in my work as a minister."

The day-long event in the Reardon Smith lecture theatre also heard from many academics who worked with Professor Cochrane. Professor Peter Elwood, who carried out a number of trials under his guidance, including ground-breaking work on the benefits of aspirin for the heart, said: "What would please him most today would no doubt be the Cochrane Collaboration and the development of evidence-based medicine. He probably wouldn’t like the prominence given to his own name – but he deserved it."

Professor Max Blythe, who worked with Professor Cochrane on his autogiography, talked about some of the darker experiences in his life which helped shape his approach to medicine. Dr Julian Tudor-Hart, another pioneer in the history of Welsh medicine, talked about his own relationship with Professor Cochrane – and their occasional arguments. Another former colleague, Professor Sir Iain Chalmers, who founded the Cochrane Collection, described him as "an inspiration and also a personal friend."

There were also video tributes paid to Professor Cochrane, who was Chair of Tuberculosis and Diseases of the Chest at the Welsh National School of Medicine, which later formed the healthcare schools of Cardiff University. They included

Professor Kay Dickersin of the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, Professor Donald Berwick from Harvard School of Public Health and Sir Michael Marmot, Director of the International Institute for Society and Health.

The event was also attended by Professor Cochrane’s nephew, Joe Stalker and his wife Maggie, who were thrilled by the day held in his honour.

For further information about Archie Cochrane: