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Biographical entry Hankinson, John (1919 - 2007)

MRCS and FRCS 1950; MB BS London 1946; LRCP 1950.

10 March 1919
Ramsbottom, Lancashire, UK
9 March 2007


John Hankinson, known as ‘Hank’, was a consultant neurosurgeon at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne, and professor of neurosurgery at the University of Newcastle. He was born in Ramsbottom, Lancashire, on 10 March 1919, the son of Daniel Hankinson, a company director, and Anne née Kavanagh. He described himself as half-Irish, from Kilkenny, and half-English, from Cheshire. He was educated at Thornleigh College, Bolton, and entered the medical school of St Mary’s Hospital, London, in 1941. He edited the St Mary’s Hospital Gazette and, in 1945, was a member of the London University medical group which visited Belsen, an experience of which he later spoke little, though it affected him markedly. The group helped to care for the survivors, many of whom suffered from typhus, tuberculosis or other serious diseases.

After qualifying in 1946, he held house appointments at St Mary’s, with Arthur Dickson Wright and John Goligher, the Seaman’s Hospital, Greenwich, the Middlesex Hospital, and Harold Wood Hospital. Dickson Wright, though a general surgeon, included neurosurgery in his wide practice and it was while working with him that Hankinson’s interest in this specialty developed. In 1951 he became a house surgeon to Wylie McKissock and Valentine Logue at the neurosurgical unit of St Georges’s Hospital at Atkinson Morley’s Hospital, Wimbledon. He progressed to registrar and senior registrar, interrupting this with a year in the USA, at the Children’s Memorial Hospital, Chicago, with Luis Amador and as research assistant at the neuropsychiatric institute, University of Illinois, with Ralph Gerrard, returning as senior surgical registrar to Atkinson Morley’s Hospital in 1955. In 1954 he developed diabetes, requiring insulin for its management. McKissock encouraged him to continue in neurosurgery in spite of this, which he did, without difficulty.

He spent 1956 and 1957 at the National Hospital, Queen Square. In September and October 1956 he was clinical assistant in Lund to Lars Leksell, an early exponent and developer of stereotaxic surgical technique. While at Queen Square he frequently met Sir Geoffrey Jefferson, who was carrying out research for his centenary lecture on Sir Victor Horsley, given at BMA House.

In 1957 Hankinson was appointed as a consultant neurosurgeon to the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne, and to the Regional Neurosurgical Centre. He came into contact with G F Rowbotham, who had set up neurosurgery in that city. He also held an academic post as senior lecturer in neurological surgery at the University of Newcastle. In 1972 he was appointed to a chair of neurosurgery, which he held until his retirement in 1984.

Hankinson’s main interests were stereotaxic functional neurosurgery and the surgical treatment of syringomyelia, upon both of which he wrote a number of papers and chapters.

He was secretary of the Society of British Neurological Surgeons from 1972 to 1977, president from 1980 to 1982 and, from 1977 to 1983, neurosurgical adviser to the Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health and Social Security.

Hankinson married Ruth Barnes, a theatre sister at St Mary’s, in 1948. There were two daughters of the marriage (Barbara and Elizabeth). His first wife died in 1982 and he married Nicole Andrews, a radiographer and later a managing director of a plastics engineering works. He was a keen yachtsman and also played the organ at the local church.

Hankinson was a popular figure in neurosurgery. He had a droll sense of humour and was an amusing and entertaining conversationalist. He died suddenly on 9 March 2007.

T T King

Sources used to compile this entry: [British Journal of Neurosurgery 2007, Vol 21, issue 6, p.636].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England