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Biographical entry Matthews, Hugoe Redvers ( - 2011)

MRCS 1961; FRCS 1966; MB BS London 1961; LRCP 1961.

10 March 2011
Thoracic surgeon


Hugoe Matthews was an eminent thoracic surgeon who was an expert on the diseases of the oesophagus; he was also an authority on the Victorian nature writer and mystic Richard Jefferies. He was educated at Sutton County Grammar School where, even as a teenager, he knew he wanted to be a surgeon. He qualified in medicine and surgery at University College London (despite pronouncing a 55-year-old woman pregnant in his practical exams). After a number of jobs in London, he moved to Bristol in 1968 as a registrar in cardiothoracic surgery. Then, following a spell as a senior registrar in Liverpool, he became a consultant at East Birmingham Hospital in 1976.

During his career as a consultant at East Birmingham (now Birmingham Heartlands) Hospital, 'HRM' (as he was fondly known by his juniors and staff) developed several new techniques to improve treatment of a range of problems of the chest and oesophagus. In the field of thoracic surgery, he developed what has become known as the 'minitrach' (short for mini-tracheostomy) - a small plastic tube placed in the windpipe during chest surgery through which the lungs can be cleared with a suction device. The minitrach has been used on the battlefield as an emergency breathing aid - saving the lives of soldiers in Afghanistan and other war zones.

His own interests focused on diseases of the oesophagus. He established a laboratory for oesophageal disorders (which became a referral centre for the whole of the West Midlands). He had great success in reducing death rates among people with oesophagal cancer by giving chemotherapy before their operations - an unusual move at the time. He set up a programme encouraging overseas fellows to spend time in Birmingham being exposed to oesophageal practice. In 1984 he set up the Oesophagal Cancer Research Appeal to raise money for a laboratory which was opened in 1989. This research programme supported several higher degrees and generated a steady output of research papers. His research and clinical registrars all remember his tutelage fondly and will never forget his logical approach to surgical thinking and practice, and an unerring ability to know when a trainee was unsure of their ground no matter how confidently they presented themselves. He was instrumental in establishing the British Oesophageal Group (which still adheres to many of the principles he espoused) and worked closely with a former patient to establish an Oesophagal Patients' Association in 1985 which is now a well-established national charity with many local associations supporting patients throughout Britain.

In the early 1990s he developed links with the department of biological sciences at Warwick University, with the result that he was created an honorary professor of thoracic surgery. His work at Warwick helped to lay the foundations for a flourishing postgraduate medical school. He published many papers and was editor of the professional journal Thorax. He lectured around the world and served as vice-president of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons from 1993, and as president in 1995. He performed one of the first surveys of cardiothoracic consultant staff nationally trying to predict retirements and vacancies to more formally establish workforce planning and trainee numbers.

At Birmingham he and a colleague set up an Escapists' Dinner Club for consultants where medical talk was banned and guests discussed their hobbies instead. His own hobby was Richard Jefferies, a contemporary of Thomas Hardy, known for his semi-mystical writing about nature and the countryside. He had stumbled across Jefferies by chance, thinking that his The gamekeeper at home might be a sequel to Lady Chatterley's lover. He read every known work published by Jefferies (and much unpublished work in his notebooks and letters), gaining a clear insight into the development of his writing and the evolution of his thoughts and ideas. He served as president of the Richard Jefferies Society and in 1993, with George Miller, published a thorough and authoritative bibliography of Jefferies's work. He followed this with The forward life of Richard Jefferies: a chronological study (Oxford, Pelton, 1994, written with Phyllis Treitel). He also produced a new index and anthology of Jefferies's works with the assistance of Rebecca Welshman.

A contemplative man who enjoyed a pipe and listening to jazz, Matthews devoted himself to books and, after his retirement in the mid-1990s, developed his skills as an artist. He exhibited his pictures at shows held by the Tiverton Arts Society, of which he was a member.

In 1968 he married Judy Thain, who survived him with their son and daughter. Hugoe Matthews died on 10 March 2011.

Richard S Steyn

The Royal College of Surgeons of England