Dr Tim Betts, MB, ChB, DPM, FRCPsych
It was with sorrow that Epilepsy Action learned of the recent death of Dr Tim Betts. Our thoughts and condolences are with his family at this sad time.
Dr Betts was a former consultant neuropsychiatrist specialising in epilepsy at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Birmingham. He was also a clinical reader in psychiatry at the University of Birmingham. He led the Birmingham neuropsychiatry service through the 1980s and 1990s and was the medical director of the Birmingham University Seizure Clinic. He retired in 2003.
Tim Betts had a connection with Epilepsy Action (British Epilepsy Association or BEA as it was known then) that spanned across five decades starting in the 1960s. Being involved with the charity over such a long period of time, it’s not surprising that he was present and influential in several key moments in the Association’s history and development.
He first came to the notice of the charity in October 1967 when he was a psychiatric registrar carrying out research in the Birmingham area. In 1972 he was invited to join BEA’s medical advisory committee which directed the charity’s research activity. He remained on the committee until 1983. In 1981 he was elected by the members of BEA to become a member of the council of management, the trustee governing body of the charity, and was immediately elected by his fellow trustees to become a member of the council’s executive committee. He went on to serve as vice chairman of the council between 1982 and 1985, chairman of the council between 1985 and 1991 and chairman of the executive committee between 1985 and 1990.
Tim Betts served on numerous committees and working groups during his time on council. Two of these were particularly important in the development of the charity. He chaired the relocation sub-committee in the mid-1980s that led to BEA moving from its base in Crowthorne House in Berkshire to a new head office in Leeds in 1986. He was also a member of the council working party set up in 1987 to bring forward ideas to restructure the charity. This resulted in 1989 with the closure of 4 of the 7 regional offices, the closure of the social work and the education departments and the establishment of a new national information centre and telephone helpline based in Leeds.
Tim Betts stood down from the council in 1991 but his involvement and support for the charity continued. Between 1990 and 1992 he worked with Brian Chappell, BEA’s director of information and training, to create and launch for BEA a brand new scientific journal about epilepsy called Seizure. Uniquely at the time, this focused on the psycho-social aspects of epilepsy and other seizure disorders. He became Seizure’s first editor-in-chief and continued in that role for eleven years until the end of 2003. Seizure is still going strong. Between 1991 and 2000 he served as honorary medical advisor to the charity and from 1999 to 2006 he was a member of the charity’s clinical advisory panel.
It’s no surprise that in 2000, Tim Betts was awarded a BEA Golden Jubilee Award in recognition of his contribution to the Association and to epilepsy. In 2004 he was further honoured by the charity with its highest accolade, The Lord Hastings Award, for his outstanding personal contribution to improving the lives of people with epilepsy.
Aside from his work with BEA, Tim Betts had a long and distinguished career with an international reputation as one of the key opinion leaders in the field of epilepsy. He was a member of the UK Epilepsy Task Force in the 1990s and co-authored the Epilepsy Needs Document, one of the most influential epilepsy documents of the decade. He was also at different times both treasurer and president of the British chapter of the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE). He travelled the world presenting the results of his research at international scientific meetings and in 1987 his contribution to epilepsy on a global scale was recognised when he received the award of ‘Ambassador for Epilepsy’ from the ILAE and the International Bureau for Epilepsy.
Dr Betts had a passion for education and improving the knowledge of epilepsy of his fellow professionals. He was a regular feature at BEA’s Burton Manor residential conferences aimed mainly at non-medical professionals with a working interest in epilepsy. He was renowned for his personal style, his innovative, unconventional and challenging thinking and his outstanding communication skills, whether presenting to a live audience or on video. He was able to engage and inspire any audience - be it people with epilepsy, medical students or eminent doctors. This made him one of the most sought after and popular speakers on epilepsy with topics as diverse as ‘new drug developments’, ‘the role of stress in seizures’ and ‘the difficult epilepsies’.
There are many doctors working in epilepsy today who attribute the original spark of their interest in the condition to a charismatic encounter with Tim Betts, often as a student hearing him lecture. There would be fewer epilepsy specialists now were it not for him. This is just one of his lasting legacies.
Another is his profound contribution to the body of scientific knowledge about epilepsy and clinical practice. He authored several books and contributed to many others as well as making educational films about epilepsy for medical professionals and people with the condition.
He published the results of his research and practice widely in the medical, scientific and academic media. His areas of special interest included complementary therapies (especially aromatherapy and hypnotherapy); temporal lobe epilepsy; dissociative seizures and women and epilepsy. He did much to publicise and popularise complementary therapies and he successfully integrated aromatherapy and hypnosis with medical treatments in his own seizure clinic. He was also a strong voice and campaigner in the call for women with epilepsy of child bearing age to receive pre-conception counselling following his own research and that of others that showed the link between some anti-epileptic drugs and malformations in children born to women with epilepsy.
He was a powerful early supporter of the idea of using epilepsy specialist nurses and was a great advocate of BEA’s Sapphire nurse scheme which launched in 1995.
Dr Betts recognised the universal value of bringing all interests in epilepsy together. This led him to promote the idea of a professional membership scheme for BEA which was launched in 1986. This was designed to provide practical support for professionals in their jobs and at the same time help build a good relationship between BEA and a wide range of people (medical and non-medical) working with people with epilepsy. The scheme is still running in 2016 thirty years later.
Tim Betts achieved a great deal – for Epilepsy Action, in research, in education and in clinical practice - and the lasting effects of his work will continue into the future. But above all he was a true champion for epilepsy who really cared about people with the condition and their families. He devoted his career to improving their lives. They will remember him with affection and they won’t forget what he did for them and the enormous difference he made. Neither will we.
Chief Executive, Epilepsy Action