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Biographical entry Hobsley, Michael (1929 - 2016)

MB BChir Cambridge 1951; FRCS 1958; PhD London 1961; MChir 1963.

18 January 1929
Calcutta, India
19 November 2016
Gastrointestinal surgeon and General surgeon


Michael Hobsley was a professor of surgery at University College London and at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, before it merged with University College Hospital Medical School in 1987.

He was born on 18 January 1929 in Calcutta, where his father worked, and attended St Saviour's College, Calcutta during the war years from 1939. In 1944, aged 15, he won the Commonwealth essay competition for an essay entitled 'Radio as a link between peoples of the British Empire' and the prize was presented to him by Princess Elizabeth.

In 1945, aged 16, Hobsley travelled to England to attend Sydney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he studied natural sciences and then medicine. He was not overstretched with his studies and found time to write a musical for piano and voices called Arabia. He composed and played by ear, and only later learned how to write songs in standard notation.

In 1951 he started as a houseman in surgery at Chase Farm Hospital, where he met a medical registrar, Jane Campbell, and kept in touch with daily letters while he did his National Service in the Royal Army Medical Corps. They married in the Higher Presbyterian Church in Manchester in 1953 while Michael was still serving and Jane joined him for a period in Belgium.

During five years of surgical training and research at the Middlesex Hospital, he was awarded a PhD for his work on respiration and its effect on gastric secretion and a MChir degree by Cambridge University. In 1965 he spent a sabbatical year in the USA. In 1969 he was promoted to senior lecturer and consultant surgeon, and in 1975 to a professor of surgical science in the department of surgical studies that had been led by David Patey and in 1964 by Leslie Le Quesne, with whom he gave the department its international fame. He took over the headship when Leslie Le Quesne retired in 1984. Michael Hobsley maintained the legacy of his predecessors as a distinguished surgeon, an inspirational teacher and a scientist until he retired in 1994.

Michael Hobsley was director at the Institute of Sports and Exercise Medicine, a fellow of the Indian Surgical Association and the American Surgical Association, and president of the British Society of Gastroenterology.

His clinical and research interests were diverse. He inherited David Patey's parotid surgery practice and provided a similar standard of expertise, but his great surgical love was in gastroenterology. His research interests included the acute abdomen, surgical anatomy of the liver, surgical vagotomy, the dumping syndrome, the physiology of gastric acid secretion and the aetiology of peptic ulcer. He carried out collaborative studies on diet in relation to peptic ulcer in northern compared with southern India.

He considered his most important discovery was that all samples of aspirated gastric secretion, no matter how widely different in electrolyte concentrations, can be shown to consist of pure gastric secretion, with fixed electrolyte concentrations, admixed with swallowed saliva and refluxed duodenal juice. He was only one member of a large team that established this over a period of 20 years. While the biggest mistake he made was unearthing evidence that Helicobacter pylori was unlikely to be the primary cause of duodenal ulceration, which he thought made him not popular with his gastroenterological colleagues.

Michael Hobsley was a true surgical scientist with a most active and critical mind. He was a great thinker and a most generous person, gentle and sympathetic, whom patients, students and colleagues liked and respected. He was as passionate about his undergraduate as his postgraduate students. He was keen to relate basic sciences to clinical teaching, and devoted time to his research students, discussing their work, editing their written articles or their thesis manuscripts. Several in the surgical community owe him great respect and admiration for his support in their careers.

Michael Hobsley published widely and wrote articles and textbooks on education, parotid and gastrointestinal surgery, surgical physiology and pathology. He was chairman of the core group of the examination board of the Royal College of Surgeons for many years, as well as an examiner in physiology. The MCQ (multiple choice question) bank was enlarged enormously by many questions written by him.

Even long after retirement, between 2003 and 2010, he collaborated with another retired academic friend in the exchange of letters on the nature of time. These were published as Totteridge Institute letters (London, Little Knoll Press, 2011). The letters showed a great depth and breadth of knowledge of scientific, mathematical and philosophical principles.

Michael Hobsley loved cricket. In his youth he was a talented cricketer and played at least once every year in his team of slashers (surgeons) against the gasers (anaesthetists). He was a member of Middlesex Cricket Club and attended test matches at Lords regularly. Michael Hobsley was an accomplished pianist and composer.

He died on 19 November 2016, aged 87.

Paul Boulos

The Royal College of Surgeons of England