Spain was first visited in 1953, the visit to Madrid being organised by Dr Martinez Alonso, who had a Glaswegian accent and cornada (bullfighting) scars on his legs. The hospitals seen included the private Rubor Nursing Home, the Institute of Industrial Medicine with its 120 beds, and the Red Cross Hospital where the Society met the President of the Red Cross, la Duquesa de la Victoria de Luchana. Here Martinez Alonso removed intact a hydatid cyst from the lung (to appreciative cries of “Olé”) and said three or so such cases were seen each week.

In 1968 the Society visited Barcelona, staying at the Hotel Colon as they did on the next visit in 1994, on both occasions visiting the Hospital de la Santa Cruz y San Pablo, built before the First World War and said to be an attempt by the architect to “out-Gaudi Gaudi”. In 1968 the host was Professor Soler Roig of whom it was said that “his prosperity appeared fabulous, as indeed it might be in a country where the income tax paid one year was allowed as an expense in the next”.

In 1994 our host at the same hospital was the urbane Professor Jordi Puig la Calle, and we also toured L’Hospital del Mar (which had performed the drug testing for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992) and Barcelona’s vast University Hospital, in some need of renovation. The visit to Valencia in 1976 had been sadly marred by Spain’s first strike of hospital ancillary staff.

However, there was excellent hospitality in Cordoba in 1987 when the Society had a meeting at the Reina Sophia Hospital, and an internal one at a Parador in Antequera. For this the Society was based in Gibraltar, where it visited St Bernard’s Hospital (courtesy of Mr D J Toomey) and the Royal Naval Hospital.

Our next visit to Spain was in 2015.  This sixth visit of the TSS to Spain was our second to Madrid, and 45 attended. As before, our hotel was the Lope de Vega (under some internal reconstruction) within walking distance of the Prado Museum, the Jardin Botanico and much else.

During three concentrated mid-week days of four hospital visits to the University Hospitals of San Carlos and the 12 Octubre, to the consultant-run MD Anderson Cancer Center and to the airy ultra-modern University Hospital Puerta de Hierro Majadahoda, we had an eclectic mix of papers, hearing from our hosts about surgical innovation, donorship for transplantation (lung especially), bariatric surgery, urban conflict (the Madrid railway bombings in 2004), gastro-oesophageal and breast surgery, bleeding from severe pelvic injuries, microsurgical head and neck reconstruction and vesico-ureteric reflux. At the latter two centres we also heard details of laboratory research.

The TSS also presented on some of these topics, as well as reviewing mechanisms of metastasis, how best to teach, team training, a bleeding GIST, vascular trauma in drug abuse, Fournier’s gangrene, screening for prostate cancer and imaging the prostate, managing melanoma, the challenges of cancer care in Wales and of emergency general surgery in the UK, and minimally-invasive parathyroidectomy.

Our Price Thomas Fellow, Glasgow cardiothoracic surgeon Professor Nawwar Al-Attar, described the management of the cardiac crisis, and coronary revascularisation using internal thoracic artery. Two unusual talks involved a brief period of reflection on ’Mindfulness’ and the eagerly awaited bilingual account of Uncle Sidney’s watch, now safely isolated in a lead-lined box. Surgical support for other countries was described in talks on the Swinfen Trust and surgery in Turkana. The three Registrar Prize sessions had good participation, each winner receiving a certificate and €100. We did not watch any operations and hospital tours were brief.

As in 1953, we savoured Spain’s heritage of its Golden Age and its royal lineage at Madrid’s Royal Palace and at El Escorial as well as in several famous museums, and at the one-time capital Toledo where the Cathedral thrice changed hands and the Alcazar dominates. Many, however, found the Valle de Los Caidos more a disturbing tribute to fascism than a simple remembrance of the dead: the Civil War of 1936 still casts a shadow. Madrid is a clean modern-looking capital city (with a recent ring road, and many tunnels and underpasses) of a country with a wealth of history and culture, proud of its imperial past and its role in discovering the New World.  We enjoyed fine dining and a plethora of tapas, in sundry restaurants within walking distance of our hotel and especially at our three communal dinners of which our formal one at the Parador in Chinchon was exquisite: as it was held on the penultimate evening, we could pack at leisure! We owe much to the organisational talent shown by the Ashford quartet of our Secretary Brian Ellis and his wife Loveday with the support of Joe and Pamela Horner whose fluency in Spanish was invaluable. This was an outstanding and innovative visit.

Tim Williams