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Biographical entry Wells, Charles Alexander (1898 - 1989)

CBE 1963; Sitara-i-Pakistan 1961; MRCS 1924; FRCS 1925; MB ChB Liverpool 1921; Hon LLD Punjab 1960; Hon FACS 1968.

9 January 1898
9 January 1989
General surgeon


Charles Alexander Wells was born in Liverpool on 9 January 1898 the elder son of Percy M Wells. His early education was at Merchant Taylors' School, Crosby, until 1916 when he joined the Royal Field Artillery for the final two years of the first world war. He continued his education at Liverpool University where he took a first in medicine in 1921 and, after a resident surgical post at Ancoats Hospital, Manchester he went to Canada to be demonstrator in anatomy at McGill University.

Returning to England he was clinical assistant at St Peter's Hospital for Stone and passed the FRCS in 1925. He was appointed surgeon to the Royal Southern Hospital, Liverpool, where he performed a wide range of general surgical and urological operations. He had a particular interest in subtotal gastrectomy, the Wilson-Hey prostatectomy, thoracolumbar sympathectomy and surgical procedures for inflammatory bowel disease. He acquired a reputation as a skilled surgeon with an enormous capacity for work and built up a large private practice. In 1945 the University of Liverpool established an academic department of surgery in the medical school and Charles Wells was invited to accept a full-time University appointment. He accepted the invitation and although the department initially was restricted to three dark rooms in the basement of the anatomy school, it soon expanded and attracted many able young surgeons from the United Kingdom and overseas - from Australia and New Zealand, from India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, from Canada and indeed from every continent. He travelled extensively throughout the Commonwealth and the United States lecturing on surgical topics and was appointed honorary consultant surgeon to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney. He served as President of the Liverpool Medical Institution and as President of the Sections of Urology and Surgery of the Royal Society of Medicine. He encouraged his junior staff to undertake research projects and established a strong connection with the Mayo Clinic which many of them subsequently visited.

He wrote numerous articles in surgical journals and edited many textbooks, but probably his most valuable contribution to surgical progress was in 1959 when he first advocated the use of Ivalon sponge in the treatment of rectal prolapse, anchoring the rectum to the pelvic parietes and enabling the sphincter mechanism to perform its proper function. He was a searching though sympathetic examiner in the final examination of many universities at home and overseas as well as for the Final Fellowship. He served on many committees including the Adrian Committee (Ministry of Health) on Radiation Hazards and the Medical Research Council's Committee on Pressure Steam Sterilisation. He served on the Council of the British Association of Urological Surgeons and was for sixteen years a Council member of the Royal College of Surgeons becoming Vice-President in 1965 and Bradshaw Lecturer in 1966, in which year he also edited the symposium on surgical education for the International Federation of Surgical Colleges.

His valuable contributions were recognised by the award of an honorary LLD by the University of Punjab in 1960 and the Star of Pakistan in 1961. He was elected to the Fellowship of the American College of Surgeons in 1968 and created a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1963.

Although he retired from his Chair of Surgery in that year he continued to attend surgical meetings and conferences. His outside interests were shooting and painting in oils.

He married Joyce Harrington in 1928 and there were two sons of the marriage. Sadly she predeceased him in 1980 and he died on his 91st birthday - 9 January 1989.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1989, 298, 1247; The Guardian 14 January 1989; Daily Telegraph 25 February 1989].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England