News & Events

Alumnae spotlight: Dr Mary Baines OBE

December 15, 2023

Dr Mary Baines OBE, Class of 1950

(29 October 1932 – 21 August 2020)

Palliative Care Physician

Mary Baines excelled at scientific subjects at Croydon High, winning a place in 1950 at Newnham College, Cambridge, to read natural sciences. She gained a first and continued clinical studies at St Thomas’ Hospital Medical School in London. At St Thomas’s, she met Dame Cicely Saunders, a former nurse and social worker studying medicine to pursue her radical vision of care for the dying.

Mary held a casualty post and was then a GP in Norwood, south London. In 1964, she heard a radio appeal by Cicely on behalf of the then-planned St Christopher’s, sent in a £3 donation, and was invited by Cicely to work at the hospice. Friends told her such a move would be professional suicide, and initially, she declined. But Cicely persisted, and in 1968, Mary eventually agreed, prompted by her strong Christian faith.

The first palliative home care team started work in October 1969, combining the skills of local GPs, district nurses and cancer nurses, who went into patients’ homes, advising on and administering pain relief and supporting families on a 24-hour basis. Dame Cicely gave Mary and her team two aims – to look after the people on the wards and at home and change the world’s view of dying. And she did just that.

Within six months, the team had discharged so many patients who could either benefit from life-extending treatment or receive pain relief at home that an outpatient clinic and home care service was set up. By the third year, the team included four specialist nurses and cared for 20 patients in the hospital and 40 outpatients. As the first team of its kind in the UK, they received many visitors and requests for advice from medics across the country.

Mary went on to support the team’s creation at St Thomas’ in 1977. At a celebration of 40 years of palliative care there, she explained how she learnt more about pain management and cancer treatments when she shadowed Dr Bates at St Thomas’ and realised that their combined knowledge greatly benefited patients. This led to Dr Bates starting the palliative care team at St Thomas’.

Mary described how Cicely handed her “one A4 sheet of paper, printed on both sides and said: “That is symptom control.” Since then, it has grown into the Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine. Mary and Cicely Saunders co-wrote Living With Dying: The Management of Terminal Disease (published in 1983), the first textbook on palliative care, followed by numerous other textbook chapters.

By 1988, around 20 palliative care teams had been created in the UK. Without the initial team, the vital role of palliative care clinicians may never have been fully recognised and applied.

She was appointed OBE in 1991, and she received a European Women of Achievement Award in 2006, at which time she was noted to be the world’s longest-serving hospice physician.

It has been said of her that she was probably single-handedly more responsible for ensuring that a whole generation of palliative medicine doctors received an excellent clinical grounding than any other individual.

She spoke to audiences in Africa, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and North and South America, gave the opening address at the first international hospice conference in India, and was an adviser to the World Health Organization. She once described herself as the “doctor with the longest experience of a hospice in the world”. She helped foster links with Eastern Europe and, in particular, supported staff from Romania, Serbia and Macedonia. She continued to be in demand as a speaker, and late in 2019, at the age of 86, she travelled to give an invited presentation at a conference in Buenos Aires.

Mary has helped to change the world’s view of dying. From such a small beginning, she was instrumental in seeing Dame Cicely’s vision develop into a worldwide movement (including resource-constrained countries) affecting the life and death of millions. As the Cicely Saunders Institute voiced, ‘You matter because you are you, and you matter all the days of your life’.

We had the privilege of welcoming Mary to several alumnae events at Croydon High; the Class of 1950 have been meeting annually since 1951

Mary died on 21 August 2020 at St Christopher’s Hospice from complications of Parkinson’s disease. Her death came as a result of complications from Parkinson’s disease and took place at St Christopher’s Hospice, to which she had contributed so much.

Thank you to Dr Mary Baines for her magnificent work that has changed lives at the end of life worldwide.

Mrs Karen Roe
Alumnae Relations Manager