Hungary was the third country behind the Iron Curtain to be visited, though the “uninvited guests” had left by the time of the second TSS trip. In 1975 there were again remarkable insights from friendly hosts who talked freely. “No hospital doctor need be poor” remarked one professor wrily, highlighting the practice of present-giving by thankful patients. Another commented “The only place where there is enthusiasm for Communism is in the West”.
Certainly doctors were underpaid and undervalued by the State, and many took to taxi-driving or waiting in restaurants to supplement their meagre income. In both 1975 and 1993 the Semmelweiss Hospital and the Oncological Institute were visited in Budapest. In 1975 it was said that skill was impressive but facilities were poor: water was brought in a steam kettle and a Victorian hat-stand was seen supporting a drip. One member toured the National Institute for Physical Education and Sports Health. A full medical check-up is given to all who take up sport, and national athletes undergo rigorous physical and psychological assessment.
There is a Sports Medicine Diploma for those who complete a four-year course in the subject. In 1975 Pecs, in the south of Hungary, was visited and its well-equipped modern hospital admired, including a central sterile supply. Pecs also had a medical university taking 200 students a year. 1993 was known to Society members as the Year of the Horse, for not only is Hungary famous for its Magyar horsemanship but our Hungarian member, Andras Barabas, also hosted the autumn meeting at Bury St Edmunds, as well as ensuring that his birthplace gave us a truly memorable reception in the spring.
TSS Hungary 4-11 May 1918
2018 saw the TSS in Hungary for the third time: the first was in 1975 when Sinclair Irwin was chairman, and James Thomson was on his first trip, with Kate. The latter were with us this time too, when the total attendance was 29 with Terry Irwin as President and Simon Mellor the Secretary. During this one week visit to Budapest we had two intensive days at Semmelweis University hospitals – the First Department of Surgery under Professor Laszlo Harsanyi (gastro-intestinal disease), and at the Cardiac and Vascular Centre in Voros street where vascular and transplant surgeon Professor Peter Sotonyi and cardiac surgeon Professor Istvan Hartyansky gave broad overviews of their hospitals and surgical activity.
The carefully crafted programme also had host talks by seniors, and juniors competing for the Trainees €100 Prize, on diverse topics demonstrating expertise in various areas, and live streaming of a difficult invasive vascular radiological procedure in the customized radiology suite. We heard about several pioneering projects, including techniques for cardiac support, future advances and heart transplantation in Hungary’s only such unit.
Our two Price Thomas Fellows, Alastair Simpson (Nottingham) and Mohan Singh (Birmingham) contributed two papers each, and Peter Guy (Salisbury) gave the newly instituted Alan Green Memorial lecture in which he discussed urological specialisation and the value of surgical experience in several fields. A morning internal meeting was also held (the first for some years) with presentations by nine TSS members on ‘helping the surgeon develop’, surgical and other outcomes, the duty of candour, and chronic mesenteric ischaemia. Finally James Thomson enlightened us as to why ‘Heortology – is interesting!’, explaining that the study of religious festivals and calendars resulted in him studying the stained glass windows of Chester Cathedral Cloister which depict the Church of England Calendar (as proposed in 1928) with over one hundred beautifully crafted lights (the subdivision of a window). He reminded us that it was Ascension Day. The afternoon was devoted to the Annual General Meeting, overseas to date, which will in future be held during the home meetings (the next is in Cardiff, 27-29 September 2018).
During our various excursions (two along the Danube, no longer blue; and to many historic sites in Budapest and the surrounding countryside) our guide Rita Yeney gave us many insights into Hungarian life and culture, emphasising particularly the aftermath of Soviet occupation (until 1991), half a million Hungarians emigrating after the Revolution of 1956 with 200,000 now living in London (“the second biggest Hungarian city”). A member of the European Union since 2004, Hungary still uses the forint though welcoming the euro. Viktor Oban’s right-wing government (which opposes immigration) has been criticized for failing to increase healthcare funding despite an improving economy. Hungary has made huge progress since our previous visits, but many feel there is more to do politically and medically, particularly to discourage smoking, reduce obesity and constrain the use of antibiotics, and to fund healthcare adequately to minimise backhanders.
Our welcome in land-locked Hungary was uninhibited, by a courteous people proud of their culture, heritage and unique language despite their extensive loss of territory during both world conflicts in which they found themselves on the losing side. Renovated Budapest is one of Europe’s most beautiful historic cities, which we savoured for a week during which Hungary was hotter than the rest of Europe.