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Biographical entry Paterson, Edward Hamilton (1920 - 2013)

OBE 1979; MB BS London 1943; FRCS 1948; Hon DSc Hong Kong 1984.

5 August 1920
Lushan Jiangxi, China
12 January 2013
General surgeon


Edward Hamilton Paterson was medical director and medical planning director of the United Christian Medical Service, Hong Kong. He was born on 5 August 1920 in Lushan in Jiangxi province, China. His great-grandfather had four sons, all of whom became ministers. His father, James Lee Hamilton, the first doctor in the family, was a missionary and his mother, Constance Mabel Hamilton née Brown was a nurse. They were posted to London Missionary Society hospitals in Hubei province in the 1900s. Paterson's early years were in Zaoshi, a small town in Hubei. Later, in 1926, the family moved to Shanghai. In 1931, Paterson's mother brought him back to England to complete his secondary education at Eltham College. He took the University Entrance Examination when he was 16. Because of his age, he was not admitted into the Middlesex Hospital Medical School until 1938. He completed his medical studies in the midst of the turmoil of the Second World War and qualified in 1943.

After house jobs at Hammersmith and Harrow, he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. He served as a captain in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, and was demobilised in 1947. He subsequently worked at Middlesex and St James' hospitals. In 1948, he became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. In the same year he was admitted into the London Missionary Society and persuaded the society to post him to work in China.

On 16 January 1950, Paterson arrived at Hong Kong. While waiting for an entry visa into China, he met the most important person in his life - Barbara Knight, a lady missionary from the London Missionary Society teaching at Ying Wa Girls' School. The romance started over a tennis match. In February, Paterson left Hong Kong for Beijing to learn Mandarin and soon started working at Mackenzie Memorial Hospital in Tientsin. In 1951, the Korean War broke out. Paterson, being a foreigner, was advised to leave and he returned to Hong Kong.

He was then invited to work at the Nethersole Hospital by Frank Richard Ashton, who was the medical superintendent at the time. The hospital had 104 beds and six doctors. Paterson was the hospital's only surgeon, operating with a paucity of supplies and equipment. He started a department of surgery with a budget of HK$250! Tuberculosis was a predominant disease in Hong Kong in the early 1950s. Paterson performed lung resection on those patients not responding to conservative medical treatment, an innovative method of treating tuberculosis in Hong Kong at that time. The scope of surgery soon enlarged at the Nethersole Hospital. Apart from major lung resections, Paterson performed probably Hong Kong's first right lobe hepatectomy in 1957.

Apart from clinical practice, Paterson was able to offer assistance to the lady next door, Barbara Knight. She specialised in western history, but was asked to teach biology in her school. Rats and tadpoles in the laboratory were a nightmare for the young lady. She sought assistance from her able neighbour - Paterson. Tennis, rats and tadpoles all played an important role in their romance. On 23 January 1952, they were married at Hop Yat Church, witnessed by many members of the Ying Wa Girls' school and Nethersole Hospital.

Paterson continued to work hard to improve standards and to develop his own professional standing. He was elected president of the Hong Kong branch of the International College of Surgeons in 1963 and president of the Hong Kong Surgical Society in 1966.

In 1963, Paterson took over as medical superintendent of Nethersole Hospital on the retirement of Ashton. While dealing with the administration, he also continued with surgery, but focused solely on an area that gave him lasting fascination - cleft lips and palate surgery. Paterson's history in repairing cleft lips and palates had a most interesting origin. A young man with a cleft lip was going to marry, but his bride was not willing to kiss him. He asked Paterson for help. Paterson tied up both the cleft lip and the marriage. He excelled in cleft surgery and together with his team the 'heptagon operation' was developed, which was helpful in correcting many severe bilateral cleft lips. United Christian Hospital today remains the regional centre for the care of severe cleft deformities in Hong Kong.

From the mid-1960s onwards, Paterson became involved in major hospital projects in Hong Kong, first expanding Nethersole Hospital and later planning a new United Christian Hospital in the industrial suburb of Kwun Tong. Paterson became the medical superintendent of United Christian Hospital from 1975 onwards and subsequently served as medical superintendent of both hospitals from 1978 to 1986.
Paterson had persistently advocated the concept of 'hospital without walls'. He believed that a hospital should not be a prison-like institution which people would avoid and fear, or enter only in extremis. Paterson spearheaded the concept of community nursing in Hong Kong, believing that nurses should not only perform services within the hospital, but also go to people's homes, to help and care for them there. To advance these beliefs, Paterson had to fight many battles. He obtained outside funds for community nursing, and, when it was seen to work, the Government accepted the scheme, which has now become a model of good practice.

Paterson led numerous visits to China, forging links between hospitals in Hong Kong and China. He served in the Hong Kong Government's medical advisory committee and contributed to the establishment of the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine. Outside healthcare, Paterson was made a justice of peace in 1978 and received the OBE in 1979. In recognition of his services to the community in the fields of medicine and nursing in Hong Kong, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in social sciences from the University of Hong Kong in 1985. In 1989, he retired and returned to the United Kingdom. After retiring, he worked briefly as a consultant for the World Health Organization and maintained close links with Hong Kong and China, making a number of return journeys to Hong Kong.

Paterson's wife - Barbara Knight - remained a constant companion and support until her death in May 2012. They had three sons - Mark, Andrew and Peter. Mark was an orthopaedic consultant at the Royal London Hospital until his death in October 2013. Andrew is an educator and Peter a social worker.

Edward Hamilton Paterson died peacefully on 12 January 2013, aged 92. A great surgeon and committee man, a man of rectitude but humility; he will be remembered by for his life-long commitment to medical work in Hong Kong

Kelvin K W Liu

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2014 348 1250; Archives, United Christian Hospital, Hong Kong; The Honorary Graduates, 124th Congregation (1985), the University of Hong Kong; 'Outside Europe. An urban community health project.' BMJ 1980 280 29; Healing with the scalpel: from the first colonial surgeon to the College of Surgeons of Hong Kong, HKAM Press, Hong Kong, 2010].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England Library