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Prince Michael Award of Merit presented to Surrey surgeon who transformed motor sport`s medical service

The Prince Michael Award of Merit is the Motor Sports Association`s most prestigious individual award. Although the Motor Sports Council (the sporting commission of the Motor Sports Association) has the power to make this award annually to a maximum of two recipients, it is only given out when ‘a meritorious service to British motor sport` is judged to have been served.

Mr Walker, an eminent orthopaedic consultant surgeon, has been a volunteer motor sport medic in Britain since the Sixties. In that time he has been largely responsible for major advancements in medical facilities at British motor sport venues and the improved training of event doctors.

On receiving the award from HRH Prince Michael, Mr Walker said: “I`ve no idea why I`ve been nominated for this. Improving medical facilities in motor sport is an on-going process and not just the work of one person. This award must, therefore, be seen as the result of a very fine team effort.”

Mr Walker, from Virginia Water, Surrey became involved in motor sport by chance in the early Sixties when he was invited to take up a medical officer`s role at Brands Hatch by a fellow doctor who had interviewed him for a job. Since, he has been a prime mover behind many improvements to trackside safety and medical services. During the last 40 years he has held a number of positions, including that of Chief Medical Officer of the British Racing & Sports Car Club, the British Formula One Grand Prix and Britain`s round of the World Rally Championship, Chairman of the MSA`s Medical Panel and as a member of the MSA`s Motor Sports Council.

Mr Walker added: “I was instantly hooked by motor sport, but horrified at the lack of medical facilities and the fact that people could quite regularly perish or be seriously injured. There wasn`t even a medical vehicle and whereas today we have all kinds of specialist equipment and drugs on hand, back then there was just a bag of salt water and a grass bank. I asked myself why and looked into trackside structure. For example, we couldn`t put out fires so looked at how to put them out or have the fuel contained. Marshals wore these very ineffective aluminium fire suits that gave them a minute to do the job before they flaked out. A lot of things were quite obviously bad and had to be changed.

“Perhaps the toughest change to get through was the response time of medical crews to reach and start treating injured drivers. It`s now inside three minutes – anything over that and a driver with a blocked airwave will suffer irreparable brain damage. Before, 50 per cent of deaths were due to an obstructed airway so getting this changed was quite an achievement. We`ve saved a lot of lives.”

Mr Walker has also been largely responsible for major improvements in medical facilities at circuits and on events, with the regular setting up of inspections – passing is imperative to a venue`s operating permit. He has helped shape training programmes for rescue teams and medics and worked closely with 2002`s Prince Michael award winner Tony Reynolds, the President of the British Motor Sports for the Disabled, in opening up the sport to disabled competitors.

“There are so many simple things that we`ve put right over the years: fire marshals around the track, rescue units, fast medical cars and so on. It`s come on quite a lot since sitting there on South Bank at Brands Hatch in the Sixties,” said Mr Walker.

Dr David Cranston, currently Chairman of the MSA`s Medical Panel, has paid tribute to Walker, likening him to legendary doctor Sid Watkins who in the last 30 years has transformed medical facilities in Formula One. Dr Cranston said: “Ken has done for British motor sport what Sid Watkins has done for F1. I`ve always seen him as a mentor and everyone involved in providing medical services at motor sport events has looked up to him as a leader. Every competitor out there has also got a lot to thank him for. Ken will be the first to deny it, but he richly deserves this award. He is a first class guy.”

Editors` note: The terms of the Prince Michael Award of Merit are well defined and strictly adhered to in considering nominations. The qualification of ‘meritorious service` encompasses the following definitions: distinguished services or significant contribution to British motor sport; outstanding achieving in British motor sports; a conspicuous or exemplary act of bravery or courage or heroism while competing in or officiating at a British motor sport event. People ineligible to receive this award are: current members of the Motor Sports Council; directors and staff of the Royal Automobile Club; directors and staff of the Motor Sports Association; those who earn or who have earned their living principally through motor sports.

The previous winners of the Prince Michael Award of Merit are:

1991 Jack Romain
1992 Tony Bird
1993 Peter Cooper & Tony Fletcher
1994 John Felix & George Hall
1995 Brian Molyneux
1996 Tom Dooley & Dick Newsum
1997 Alec Rivers-Fletcher & Donald Grieve
1998 Michael Fenwick & Keith Douglas
1999 No award
2000 Bob Rae
2001 No award
2002 Tony Reynolds
2003 No award
2004 Mr Ken Walker