The “FEPOW Psychiatrist”
We sadly report the recent death of Dr Kamal Khan, who as a Consultant Psychiatrist befriended, treated and supported many hundreds of ex-Far East POWs who suffered mental health problems as a result of their experiences in captivity.
Dr Kamaluddin Khan – widely known as “Kamal” – was born in India in 1937, and qualified in science (BSc at Agra University) and medicine (MB,BS at Lucknow University). He later moved to the UK and trained in psychiatry, including as a Senior Registrar at Sefton General Hospital in Liverpool. It was here, in the mid-1970s, that Kamal was approached by Dr Dion Bell from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM). Dion was the tropical diseases consultant in charge of the School’s inpatient beds at Sefton. These were at the time mostly occupied by ex-Far East POWs (often known as “FEPOWs”) undergoing tropical diseases investigation. Dion was concerned that many had significant psychiatric disturbances related to their imprisonment, and asked if Kamal could see some of these patients. Kamal agreed, and after assessing a small number, was so concerned by their mental health status that he offered to see all the ex-POWs referred to the tropical unit.
The men had varying degrees of depression and anxiety, often associated with nightmares and flashbacks of their captivity experiences. Retrospectively, this represented a form of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but this diagnostic label had not at the time been clearly defined.
In 1977 Kamal was appointed to a Consultant Psychiatrist position on the Wirral (close to Liverpool) and continued to regularly assess and treat ex-Far East POWs, establishing a weekly “FEPOW Clinic” . He also began a major research investigation into the mental health of a randomised group of ex-Far East POWs, comparing them with a similar group of non-imprisoned members of the 2nd World War Burma Campaign. He found that 40% of the POW group had significant psychiatric consequences of their captivity, and the work was successfully written up for a PhD degree. All of this clinical and research activity was carried out in addition to his routine busy NHS caseload.
When he retired in 1995, many of his POW patients were devastated at losing such a caring doctor and good friend. In an oral history interview to the Liverpool Tropical School, one ex-POW said,
“he was a wonderful man… I was able to tell him things that I couldn’t tell anyone. I went on a regular appointment, there were lots of FEPOWs there ….. and each time he was wonderful”
Kamal’s contribution to the Far East POW community was immense, and his unique research was of major academic value to our understanding of the Far East POW experience and its outcomes.
Geoff Gill & Meg Parkes
Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine