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History

Liverpool has a prominent and celebrated Orthopaedic history, with numerous pioneers in the field of Trauma and Orthopaedic surgery dating back over the last two centuries.

Firstly, Hugh Owen Thomas and latterly his nephew Sir Robert Jones laid the foundations of Orthopaedic training in the region. It has produced numerous acclaimed and famed surgeons, some of whom are profiled below.

Liverpool’s status as a world leader in Orthopaedic surgery was cemented with the establishment of the MCh (Orth), a forerunner of the FRCS (Orth), in 1926. This postgraduate degree in Master of Surgery was founded by Thomas Porter McMurray, the first professor of Orthopaedics in Liverpool. The MCh (Orth) was synonymous with University of Liverpool – it’s first gold medal winner was Sir Reginald Watson-Jones.

Teaching in the region continues to be excellent, recognised as recently as 2011 when the current Head of Training, Mr Ian Braithwaite, was awarded the Annual Trainer of the Year award at the British Orthopaedic Trainees Association (BOTA) Annual Conference.

 

Hugh Owen Thomas (1834-1891) – ‘the Father of Orthopaedic Surgery’. Born to a family of bone setters, Hugh Owen Thomas trained in Edinburgh, London and Paris before returning to Liverpool and establishing a practice at 11 Nelson Street. He developed the busiest practice of fracture management in the country, and wrote extensively on fractures and dislocations. A devoted clinician, he took only 6 days leave in 30 years practise. He left a legacy of excellence and a number of devices that still bear his name, most famously the ‘Thomas Splint’.

No other pioneer contributed so much in establishing the fundamental principles of orthopaedic surgery.

Sir Robert Jones (1857-1933) – nephew of Hugh Owen Thomas, and serving his apprenticeship under his uncle, Sir Robert Jones would develop the modern speciality of orthopaedic surgery in Britain. A renowned surgeon and enthusiastic teacher, he helped establish Liverpool as a centre of Orthopaedic excellence whilst at the Royal Southern Hospital. His marathon 30 patient operating lists would become the stuff of legend. He helped create the BOA and the ISOS, and his use of the Thomas splints in the treatment of femoral fractures in the First World War saved hundreds of lives.
The eponymous Jones fracture, bears his name.

Thomas Porter McMurray (1888-1949) – house surgeon to Sir Robert Jones in 1910, Thomas Porter McMurray succeeded his mentor as director of Orthopaedic studies and latter became Liverpool’s first professor of Orthopaedics in 1938. He was president of the BMA and Liverpool Medical Institute. McMurray’s dexterity as an operator was legendary, as was his teaching. He established the MCh (Orth) in 1926 and taught the world over before his death in 1949.

McMurray could reputedly perform an open menisectomy in 5 minutes, a tribute to the eponymous test that he described.

Sir Reginald Watson-Jones (1902-1972) – appointed honorary assistant surgeon to Sir Robert Jones in 1926, the same year he was awarded the MCh (Orth) gold medal, aged 24. Watson-Jones published extensively, including Fractures and Joint Injuries, reprinted 15 times. He was instrumental in founding the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery in 1948, serving as editor from its first edition until his death in 1972. Again, an active teacher in Liverpool, Watson-Jones established instructional courses on fractures at Liverpool Royal Infirmary. He was president of the BOA and Orthopaedic surgeon to King George VI.

Bryan McFarland (1900-1963) – as professor of Orthopaedic surgery at Liverpool, Bryan McFarland continued the MCh (Orth) with vigour; a degree that he himself had been one of the first four candidates to achieve. He established the Liverpool Orthopaedic Circle in 1944. He was also a founding member of the JBJS (Br).

A personable and approachable teacher, he was a true son of Liverpool, attending Wallasey Grammar and later the University of Liverpool, before completing his post-graduate training in Liverpool before his appointment as the first consultant orthopaedic surgeon the Royal Southern.

Robert Roaf (1913-2007) – appointed professor of Orthopaedics in Liverpool in 1963. Robert Roaf was one of the world’s leading spinal surgeons, he also travelled extensively and was one of the last two known British pre-war Himalayan climbers. He was held in the greatest of respect in much of the medical world as a great thinker and philosopher. His teaching was often complex and his insights were sometimes too deep for some to follow.

When asked about his new method of operating through the chest to correct spinal deformities (a technique that took years to be accepted, but is now recognised as a standard procedure worldwide), Roaf commented, “Heretical views, especially in medicine, are never welcome.”

Noel Chavasse (1884-1917) – trained in Orthopaedic Surgery at Liverpool Southern under Sir Robert Jones, Noel Chavasse is one of only three people to be awarded a Victoria Cross twice. He also represented Great Britain at the 1908 Olympic Games. He died in 1917 of wounds resulting from an act of heroism at Passchendaele, an act for which he was awarded a second Victoria Cross.