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Biographical entry Hulme, Allan (1917 - 2008)

FRCS 1947; BA Cambridge 1939; MB BCh 1942.

June 1917
Seaton Carew, UK
29 December 2008


Allan Hulme was chief of neurosurgery at Frenchay Hospital, Bristol. He was born in June 1917 in Seaton Carew, but spent his childhood in Stockport, Lancashire. He was educated at Manchester Grammar School, where he was in receipt of a scholarship. In 1935, he won an exhibition to St John’s College, Cambridge, to read agricultural science. A year after going to Cambridge, he decided that his true vocation lay in medicine, and the university and college authorities allowed him to switch courses. In 1939, he graduated BA in medicine.

Allan Hulme returned to Manchester, to pursue his medical training at the Manchester Royal Infirmary as a house surgeon under the tutelage of Sir Geoffrey Jefferson, newly appointed professor of neurosurgery at the University of Manchester, a mentor for whom he developed the utmost regard and admiration. In 1942, Allan Hulme gained his BChir. He also married Christine Annie Pepper, whom he had met in Cambridge whilst she was nursing at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Their marriage lasted for 59 years.

In 1942, Allan Hulme joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, serving first in East Africa (Nigeria), then being transferred to India, and finally Burma. While in India, his interest in neurosurgery was kindled by having to deal with combat-related traumatic head injuries. During this highly formative period, he was strongly influenced by a second mentor, Gordon Paul, a surgeon from Bristol, who informed him of the possibility of obtaining a position in Bristol after the war finished. After his demobilisation in 1946, Allan returned briefly to Manchester, but influenced by this advice, applied for and obtained a post in neurosurgery at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol. This had been developed as an Emergency Medical Services hospital, housed in a series of single-story brick buildings, by the US forces during the Second World War, and it was during this period that neurosurgery was established. After the war, when the hospital was handed back to the newly-formed NHS, Frenchay became the south-western regional centre for the specialty of neurosurgery. In 1947, shortly after starting work at Frenchay, Allan obtained his FRCS.

At the time of his appointment, the chief of neurosurgery was George Alexander, another strong influence. He was acknowledged in an important paper which Allan Hulme published in 1960 on the surgical approach to thoracic intervertebral disc protrusions, which is still being cited more than 40 years later (J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1960 May;23:133-7).

Allan was promoted to senior registrar then full consultant by the early 1960s. The third consultant was Douglas Phillips. Work in the unit was arduous and demanding, with long and frequently unsocial hours. He showed paramount devotion to the welfare of his patients, often making the journey from his home in Long Ashton in the western suburbs of Bristol, even when not on duty, to check on the progress of patients in person. Because of his wide geographical coverage of the Frenchay neurosurgical unit, he also held regular clinics in Taunton and Exeter.

On the retirement of Douglas Phillips in the late 1960s, Allan became chief of neurosurgery. Arising from his surgical work, he developed a strong interest in the mechanisms of control of intracranial pressure. He initiated and undertook pioneering research into this with colleagues at the Burden Neurological Institute, particularly Ray Cooper. They studied the control of intracranial pressure during anaesthesia, after traumatic head injury, and before and after surgery for intracranial space-occupying lesions. These studies involved the implantation of miniaturised subdural pressure transducers into the skull, along with other intracranial monitoring devices such as oxygen electrodes and thermistors to monitor local blood flow.

Allan retired from his post as chief of neurosurgery in 1979, and retired to Balquhidder in Perthshire, where he passed a long, productive and happy retirement amongst his beloved Scottish hills, which he loved to paint and photograph to the very end of his life. He died on 29 December 2008 and was survived by his three children, Edward, Martin and Catherine.

E C Hulme

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2009 338 2274].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England