Dr Neville Silverston MBE

Neville Silverston

Areas of Interest

Health Care, Science and Technology

Honorary Award

Honorary Fellow, 2005


Doctor and communications innovator, Dr Neville Silverston, was instrumental in persuading a local company, Pye Telecommunication Limited, to design and develop the first long range pocket pager in the UK. In 1968 he set up Cambridge Medical Answering Service Limited to provide GPs, hospital doctors and community midwives with these instruments as an emergency callout system. In 1971 he set up the Mid-Anglia General Practitioner Accident Service (MAGPAS) which turned doctors out to serious road traffic accidents and other emergencies in the community and for which he was awarded an MBE in 1983. In 1974 he assisted in setting up a Vocational Training Scheme for General Practice in Addenbrooke's Hospital and for which he was appointed a Fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners.


"The Senate of Anglia Ruskin University has great pleasure in recommending the award of an Honorary Fellowship of the University to Dr Neville Silverston, creator of Cambridge Medical Answering Services Limited, pioneer of the Mid-Anglia General Practitioner Accident Service (MAGPAS) the emergency medical charity for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, educational innovator of the Vocational Training Scheme for General Practice in Addenbrooke's Hospital, art lover, botanist and physician.

Neville Silverston was born in Manchester and after attending Manchester Grammar School, undertook his National Service in the army. He was discharged in 1948 as a sergeant instructor and immediately entered Medical School in Manchester, graduating in 1954. A fortnight later he married his childhood sweetheart Joan, a barrister. Neville spent the next two years as a houseman in various uninspiring hospitals in Lancashire, but finding an opening in general practice presented insurmountable problems as the UK was awash with young aspiring doctors. So, like many of his colleagues, he emigrated abroad, in his case to Cincinnati in the USA, where he, Joan and now, son Paul (an APU alumnus in the making!) were overwhelmed by the breath-taking material abundance of everything - a stark contrast to the grey drabness of post-war Britain where food and petrol rationing had only just been discarded. In particular Neville, who worked as a medical registrar and medical teacher, was struck by the modern, glass and chromium hospitals which vied with each other for patients!

But, despite the opportunities and attractions, Neville could not make his peace with private practice and two years later, he and his family returned to the UK. Following a house-job in midwifery in Chester, Neville applied (together with 125 other aspiring doctors) for a single-handed general practice opening in Bottisham. He was relieved to be appointed. The surgery was in his house. No receptionist, no appointment system. He was on-duty 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week! It is said that "necessity is the mother of invention" and as Neville increasingly appreciated the dilemma of his not being contactable when out on domestic visits, he was prompted to persuade the local Pye Telecommunications company to develop the long range pocket pager. In 1968 he set up the company Cambridge Medical Answering Services Limited to provide local GPs, district nurses and midwives with this communication facility. The control room was manned by nurse-operators and, at a stroke, GPs' lives were transformed - wives were no longer tied to the telephone. Later, hospital doctors, including the Addenbrooke's pioneer kidney transplant team, also began to use the Service and by 1996 when Neville retired, the company had a staff of forty and was taking over one thousand calls a day for doctors across the country.

Neville's far-sightedness then led him to explore other applications of this communications set-up and in 1971, he and GP colleagues proposed supporting the statutory emergency services (ambulance, fire and police) by providing a medical service at the scene of road accidents (Neville attending 3,500 in his time) and other emergencies. He established the Mid-Anglia GP Accident Service (MAGPAS) charity which is described on the Cambs Constabulary website as "our fourth emergency service" and which led to his being awarded the MBE in 1983.

Later, an ongoing interest in medical education led to Neville's involvement in setting up the Vocational Training Scheme for General Practice in Addenbrooke's Hospital, for which he was appointed a Fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners. Then, in 1988 and "ahead of his time" he proposed the Cambridge Doctors' Co-operative in Cambridge, so that GPs could share their out-of-hours responsibilities to their patients. This was too-advanced a concept for GPs to grasp immediately and took a further five years to achieve general acceptance, but then it revolutionized Cambridge general practice once again!

Neville is a man of great ingenuity and inventiveness, who has contributed enormously to the health, safety and security of the well, the unwell and those attending them in this community and far beyond, in a number of ways: in more intelligent use of medical resources through Cambridge Medical Answering Services Limited and the Doctors' Co-operative; in greater efficiency in the handling of emergency situations through the MAGPAS charity and in improving medical education through the Vocational Training Scheme for General Practice. Little wonder that in 1970, Neville was nominated Doctor magazine's Doctor of the Year.

Physician, inventor and administrator, Neville has used his gifts for the overall good of society, introducing novel ideas and schemes for the enhancement of healthcare which benefit us all directly or through reassurance that, in the event, quality aid is en route to us. It is for all these reasons, therefore, that I invite you, Vice-Chancellor, to confer on Dr Neville Silverston MBE, MB.ChB, FRCGP, the award of Honorary Fellow of the University."