Hugh Phillips

President of the Royal College of Surgeons
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The Independent Online

Over many years of consistently determined hard work, Hugh Phillips earned a reputation with his surgical colleagues as a significant contributor to resolution of the current complex difficulties facing the profession. His strong and realistic views were widely accepted and respected by colleagues who gave him great support in his position since 2004 as President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Phillips's involvement in surgical teaching over many years, and his work on the college's Professional Standards Board more recently, helped attain more realism in the planned political changes ahead. His year as President was fraught by illness but his amazing tenacity enabled him to achieve more than he ever anticipated. His success in obtaining agreement to proceed with the long overdue rebuilding of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital at Stanmore gave him special satisfaction, and is a critical landmark for orthopaedic services in the South-East.

Hugh Phillips was born in 1940 in south-east London but his family originated in Wales, his father having walked from the valleys to the metropolis in hard times. In childhood Hugh enjoyed advice from an older brother and sister and followed them to Roan School in Eltham as a scholar. Having chosen a career in medicine, he entered St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College in 1958 when medical students led a comparatively unstructured existence.

This suited Hugh Phillips, but his academic talents were recognised as he was selected for an intercalated BSc in physiology. Qualifying in 1964 he attained a house job on the popular surgical firm of Alan Hunt and Jimmy Robinson at Bart's which gave him a solid rung on the surgical ladder. In 1966, while working at the Luton and Dunstable hospital, he decided that orthopaedics was to be his choice of surgery. He followed the usual path to the primary examination in surgery by demonstrating physiology at the Bart's Medical College, Charterhouse, and then a surgical training rotation to the Fellowship of the College of Surgeons. In those days, general surgical training was mandatory and Phillips took a post at Whipps Cross where the workload was phenomenal. His stamina kept him going and he developed a talent for teaching.

Orthopaedic surgical training was established as a rotation programme at Bart's and Phillips joined this in 1969. Taking in posts at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital at Stanmore gave him opportunities to develop special interests. His time on the rotation spent at Norwich, however, inspired his interest in hip surgery. During his training, he developed Hodgkin's lymphoma, a life-threatening illness, but with painful revolutionary therapy over a prolonged period his survival was ensured.

In 1966 Hugh Phillips married Trish Kennard, whose realism, organising abilities and experience as a physiotherapist gave him immeasurable support. They had three daughters whose individualistic non-conformism entertained both parents at length. (Hugh had a great sense of the ridiculous.)

An opportunity arose in 1975 for Phillips to join the staff at the university hospital in Norwich and he and the family moved to Norfolk. The Orthopaedic Department at the Norfolk and Norwich was renowned for hip surgery through the pioneering work of G.K. McKee and John Watson-Farrar, and Phillips was able to develop this further when uncemented hip implants became popular. He designed the Norwich hip, which started with great acclaim, but did not endure the test of time.

Phillips's hip and knee surgical expertise became recognised and he contributed to many symposia, courses and international meetings. As senior surgeon in Norwich, he maintained the high reputation of the Orthopaedic Department both nationally and internationally. The department increased from six surgeons when he joined to the present number of 17. He published widely on many orthopaedic topics, from hip and knee surgery to trauma and education. Recently, Norwich established its own medical school and this gave him particular satisfaction. His support for Norwich City itself extended to medical involvement for the Norwich City Football Club.

Phillips was elected President of the Hip Society in 1999, and of the Orthopaedic Section of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1992. In the British Orthopaedic Association, he took up the challenge of surgical teaching on the Education Committee, of which he became secretary, and then the Specialist Advisory Committee. He was a member of national committees such as the National Trauma Committee, the National Joint Registry and NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) protocols. He was elected President of the British Orthopaedic Association in 1999 and entertained the Japanese Orthopaedic Association in 2000 at a combined meeting in London.

In 1995 he was elected to the council of the Royal College of Surgeons and joined its Professional Standards Board - facing up to those in government wishing to impose regulations from without the profession. His communication abilities and clear views led to his election as president of the college in 2003, and on induction he took a firm hold of ongoing controversies within the field of surgery. Although set back by illness, he was determined to continue with college commitments. During the early part of 2005, he toured hospitals in Wales gathering important information about problems and plans for solving them. This visitation to his Welsh roots was clearly a most enjoyable experience for him.

Tom Bucknill