2007 was the year of the Pig, with its auspicious omens. It was certainly a year of novelty and experimentation for the Travelling Surgical Society, both at home and abroad. For the first time in one year there were three visits, to London, China (first stop Hong Kong), and Salisbury. We have certainly spread our wings, and furthermore each exact venue was new. In China we were under the new Presidency of David Ralphs, and the autumn meeting – heralded by a colourful newsletter – was the first under our new Secretary Terry Irwin, who had already made a strong impact implementing the TSS website which he has since upgraded and updated and which can be accessed at www.travellingsurgeon.org in considerable detail, with a secure members’ area requiring a password for transactions.
Our new President David Ralphs, who took office at the end of the Ashford meeting in September 2006, imposed his stamp by proposing the winter London meeting which on 10 February 2007 fulfilled every expectation for the 39 people who attended despite recent snow. Arranged by our tireless outgoing secretary Bill Thomas in conjunction with local hosts and former TSS Presidents James Thomson (Master of Charterhouse) and William Shand (former Master of the Worshipful Company of Barbers), the meeting managed in one day to embrace the whole history of surgical endeavour in our capital city, certainly in relation to the historic Companies which have overseen it. We even saw both Holbein portraits of Henry VIII and the barber-surgeons!
Many members stayed at the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) in the Nuffield building, convenient for the Hunterian Museum (which we toured with the ever-sprightly Professor Harold Ellis) before we moved on to the Charterhouse where we had a reception, lunch, tour, presentations (on four varied non-medical Enthusiasms), tea, then Evensong in the Chapel. Dinner was at the Worshipful Company of Barber-Surgeons in the Great Hall, preceded by champagne and a little history from our host William Shand. It was an enchanting, enlightening day during which we were entertained and educated in equal measure, in the best traditions of the Society.
China was an astonishing experience, well organised by David Jones (paediatric orthopaedic surgeon from Great Ormond Street Hospital) on behalf of the RCS. Our three days in Hong Kong were an eye-opener for those who had not previously visited, and perhaps even for those who had, because its continuing prosperity and entrepreneurial buzz were evident everywhere. Far from shackling Hong Kong, the Chinese have given it considerable autonomy (as a Special Administrative Region) and used it as a model to increase their impact on world markets. Shanghai offered a similar experience, with considerable Western influence along the Bund (the riverside stretch boasting many restaurants as well as high rise office buildings). Nonetheless it was salutary to learn that few Chinese could afford the £4 ticket for our 30 km train ride on the Maglev (at up to 350 kph) to Pudong International Airport.
The main scientific programme in China was a joint two-day meeting in Hong Kong, well attended on the second day when there were several contributions from the TSS which also contributed to the one-day joint meeting at the Chinese Medical Association in Beijing where surgical training and education were the principal topics, chiefly discussed by the British delegation, and the host attendance was a little sparse. Nonetheless in both Hong Kong and Beijing our welcome was fulsome and the social excursions throughout China excellent, embracing most of the historic tourist sites including Guilin’s River Li, Xi’an and the Terracotta Army, and the environs of Shanghai, including a water village and Suzhou. In bustling Beijing we crossed Tian’amen Square to enter the Forbidden City, and also climbed the Great Wall at Mutianyu.
We all knew China to be the dominant emerging economic power in recent years. China’s impact on British lives has been subtle and pervasive, affecting – whether we know it or not – our house prices, the inequality in our wages and the cost of goods in our shops. China’s strength comes from its huge population and labour force, which is paid little, but there is an impression that corruption and authoritarianism might derail the juggernaut, together with concerns about human rights issues and environmental pollution: all this had been described by William Hutton in his incisive analysis of China published in 2007. China’s impact on world economies was underlined at the end of February 2007 when a sharp drop in the Shanghai Composite (China’s main stock index) sent judders round the world’s markets. China’s economic growth benefits the residents of Shanghai, who earn 20-30 times what the rural peasantry can expect, but China is committed (through its two C-words: communism and control) to keep its population fed and quiet, with opposition suppressed. The West has not forgotten Tian’anmen Square, and Taiwan and Tibet remain uneasy problems for the mother country where in 2008 Beijing is due to host the Olympics, an event to which our guides barely referred.
Our home visit, the first ever to Salisbury, was organised faultlessly by Peter and Jane Guy. We were accommodated in the centre of the city within walking distance of its great Cathedral which has the tallest spire, the largest cloister, surely the greenest Close, and of course one of four original editions of the Magna Carta. We supped at Fisherton Mill, walking there past the former Salisbury Infirmary. The Friday scientific presentations – held in the post-graduate centre of the very modern Salisbury District General Hospital in countryside close to the city – had a urological flavour but also embraced several regional surgical services. The day began with a talk by the Trust’s Chief Executive Frank Harsent who stimulated much debate, centring on patient’s raised expectations, the difficulty in getting outcome data, and future working practices expected of doctors. There followed overviews of reconstructive hand surgery and childhood obesity, and then a tour round the Spinal Treatment Centre. The TSS Registrars’ Prize was won by Mark Harris for a paper on work done by himself and our host. We were joined by the ladies for a fascinating talk on Robots in Surgery by guest speaker Erik Mayer, and a preview of the visit in May 2008 to Athens which had been reconnoitred by our new Secretary Terry Irwin with his wife Jenny who have provided a great wealth of illustrated advance information on the web-site.
The annual Dinner at the Larmer Tree was as exquisite as our surroundings were , and did justice to our speaker Derek Brown, one-time Director of the Michelin Restaurant Guide. It also gave our President David Ralphs the opportunity to reflect on the success of the TSS in supporting the RCS visit to China, which was also commended in the Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons by its President, Bernard Ribeiro, who with his wife Elizabeth had been guests at our TSS dinner in the Prime Hotel in Beijing.
A clerical error in Salisbury had led to our group being briefly called the Struggling Surgical Society: the very antithesis of the way things look now! Terry Irwin began his tenure as TSS Secretary with a colourful newsletter, then ushered in his electronic approach with a flourish, updating the website which was later disbanded in favour of the even easier new one. His hope is that all bookings and transactions will eventually be done on-line. His reconnoitre to Athens promises an interesting visit there. As ever, our thanks are due to the immense work the Secretary and his wife put into all the arrangements for our visits, both at home and abroad. Each event seems to scale new heights, literally so in the case of Salisbury Cathedral with the tallest in England. The work involved leaves us indebted to t TSS Secretary with especial thanks going to the outgoing one, Bill Thomas and his wife Grace, who took on this commitment in addition to so many others.
The far-flung journeys undertaken with the Royal College of Surgeons offer unrivalled opportunities to the Society whilst relieving the load on the Society’s own officers, though the Editor still labours to record all the visits both on the website and in print whilst the Archivists (Senior and Assistant) wrestle with the many memorabilia. Indeed, special mention is deserved for this archival work, Alan Green continuing to labour mightily whilst Brian Ellis’ photography has a professional look, reviving our memories with his prompt beautifully presented website. The College organisers deserve our thanks, particularly Maria Finnerty (entrusted with the day-to-day arrangements) working with Martin Comber and Chief Executive Craig Duncan. David Jones oversaw the numerous scientific and clinical arrangements with patience and humour. The College Council played their role too under President Bernard Ribeiro whose many speeches and greetings touched all the right notes.
The calendar year ended on a sad note for the TSS, with the death on 29 December 2007 of Professor Ivan Johnston, whose international standing and academic achievements gave distinction to the TSS of which he was President from 1992 to 1995. Our condolences go to his family, particularly his wife Annette who brought fun and friendship to our meetings, and his obituary is to be found on the web-site (www.travellingsurgeon.org) which now details the Society’s activities whether past, present or future.