A guide for TSS hosts

Our organisation was founded in 1924 by a group of British surgeons who had worked in France during the First World War in the Casualty Clearing Stations of the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Meeting surgeons from elsewhere they realised that British surgery was somewhat isolated from that of other countries. To remedy this they formed a small Club, the object of which was to travel every year to a foreign country and meet colleagues with whom they could share knowledge and exchange opinions. This idea was warmly supported by Sir Berkeley (later Lord) Moynihan, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, who agreed to become the Club’s first President.

In those early days, members had to have served in the Armed Forces. Between the Wars, fourteen trips were made to seven different countries. Two home centres in the UK were also visited. An account of each meeting, particularly the scientific sessions, is produced as a historical record in a printed annual Report: sometimes our hosts are surprised at what we know of their predecessors!

Following the Second World War, the Club re-formed as before. Sir Clement Price Thomas (a pioneer thoracic surgeon, who operated on King George VI) became its President in 1952. In 1958 a visit to the home centre of one member was added, and this became customary each autumn.

A change of name

In 1988 the name Club was changed to Society, emphasising its serious scientific intent which includes presentations of the work and experience of its members and its hosts, in a mutual exchange of ideas. We value the chance to learn about the host country’s healthcare system – its opportunities, limitations and frustrations – and about the specialist surgical experience, expertise and training of those we meet.

As well as ‘paper sessions’ with formal presentations – usually in a lecture theatre with audio-visual aids (video and now PowerPoint, for which we can bring our own laptop and even projector) – we also enjoy the opportunity to talk with our hosts – professors, consultants / assistants, junior doctors and medical students – to discuss the many difficulties and successes involved in delivering modern surgical care.

The scientific meeting

We particularly value the presence of medical students and junior doctors, from whom we get the flavour of modern surgical training. Our presentations include not only topics and research of current clinical interest but also the funding and delivery of surgical care, matters of competence and training, the use of teaching techniques (and modern audiovisual aids), audit and governance, as well as subjects of perennial interest, including the history of surgery itself – in short, anything that touches remotely on the modern practice of surgery!

During the week abroad each spring, we try to spend up to a day at each of several hospitals, where the programme is largely left to the discretion of our hosts and usually includes a mutual presentation of scientific/clinical papers. Touring wards, endoscopy and radiology facilities, accident departments and intensive care units, and attending operating theatres can all have a place in helping us to learn about the hospital we are visiting, and facilitates discussion and the exchange of ideas.

In May 2002, a memorable half-hour was spent on the roof of the highest building in Prague, the Central Military Hospital, admiring its helicopter (complete with two-man uniformed aircrew) which is available round-the-clock. Talking with our hosts we find that many problems and solutions are common to us all, especially the lack of money for healthcare and the pressure to become ever more efficient!

Membership

The membership of the Society consists of about 25 active members in surgical practice, many with a gastro-intestinal, vascular, urological or plastic interest. Currently we do not have an orthopaedic, cardiothoracic or neuro-surgeon amongst our members, who are a mixture of academic and clinical surgeons from teaching / university and district hospitals all over Britain. We also have surgeons from the Armed Services with wide experience of the management of trauma, some of it from conflicts such as the Falklands, Gulf War, Bosnia and Afghanistan.

On retirement from active practice at the age of 65 or before, Ordinary Members become Senior Members who may still travel with the Society if they wish. Wives and partners are an integral part of the Society and all enjoy a social and sight-seeing programme arranged by our industrious secretary. The opportunity to meet the wives of our hosts is always appreciated, and nothing gives us more pleasure than to entertain our hosts and their spouses in gratitude for our visit.

Recent visits

Recent foreign visits have included Berlin, Prague (our first to the Czech Republic), Amsterdam, Rome, Belgium, Lisbon, Barcelona, Paris, Heidelberg and Mannheim, Hungary, Italy, Gibraltar, Finland and Switzerland. The United States was visited in 1981 and again in 2003 and 2013, Israel in 1995, South Africa in 1999, Singapore then Darwin in 2004, and recently – and for the first time – China in 2007. The latter two visits to the Far East were undertaken in conjunction with the Royal College of Surgeons of England, both groups benefiting from this joint venture with significant contributions made by the Travelling Surgical Society.

Recent home visits in the United Kingdom include Salisbury, Ashford (Middlesex), Sheffield, Tunbridge Wells, Chester, Belfast, Edinburgh, London, Canterbury, Nottingham, Newport, Belfast, Southampton and the Royal Naval Hospital, Haslar. CME recognition is on-going (and the involvement of Senior Members gives new meaning to the term Continuing Medical Education).

Every meeting promotes and cements friendships, and fosters the exchange of ideas, both surgical and social, in a busy programme from which a return to work is almost a relaxation. It is indeed a cut above most busmen’s holidays, and offers happy memories which are recollected in detail in the accounts on the web-site (the “Reports”) and from the high-quality photographs taken by our Assistant Archivist Brian Ellis, who supports his fellow former urologist and Archivist Alan Green in maintaining the many details and memorabilia accumulated over the years, on our foreign visits especially. His photographic record of recent visits can be accessed by members. Hosts who would like to see the images should contact the secretary who will usually grant special privileges!

Facilities

Most of our presentations are now on PowerPoint, saved to diskette, CD-ROM, or external USB drives. We can if requested bring our own projector for PowerPoint presentations if this is not otherwise available.

A place in history

As we keep a permanent printed record of our visits, our Editor in charge of the TSS Report (one of our surgeons) always appreciates any printed information you may have about your hospital and its clinical activity, budget and also about your national system of healthcare – indeed, anything you are willing to share with us ! It is often intriguing to look back on past visits and see how things have changed. We believe such a record of European surgery may be unique.