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  • Did you know that the Rowley Bristow unit has been judged to be not just one of the best, but the best orthopaedic unit in the country when it comes to treating Hip fractures in the elderly.?
  • Did you know that it has significant international renown?
  • Did you also know that part of its origins resulted from the bombing of St Thomas’s hospital in 1940 forcing orthopaedic staff there to relocate outside London?


These and other facts were presented to a captivated audience on 15th September, 2011 by Consultant and Divisional Director David Elliott, assisted not only by a Powerpoint presentation, but also by a full skeleton and some extremely frightening pieces of heavy duty metal. Mr Elliott said that his children described him as a “neek”; in other words a cross between a nerd and a geek. From this presentation it was easy to see why they thought of him in these terms; he has a highly infectious enthusiasm for his subject which soon had the audience paying the sharpest of attention, despite the warmth of the weather outside. Mr Elliott introduced his talk by giving a brief history of the origins of the unit.

He then went on to explain how treatments had changed over the years, with invasive surgery now being the preferred method of dealing with complex fractures rather than traction. This meant that long stays in hospital following a fracture were now the exception rather than the rule. He passed round various tools of the trade, including titanium rods for insertion into bone and various artificial hip and knee joints whose weight was quite surprising to those unfamiliar with them. He also explained why the unit is called “Trauma and Orthopaedic”. “Trauma” fixes things that are broken e.g. the analogy of a damaged bike, while “Orthopaedic” deals with things that are wearing out as a consequence of high mileage e.g. the analogy of a worn out trainer (there were many motoring metaphors used during the afternoon as well as some nonchalant references to “carpentry” when talking about surgeons‘ techniques).

Apparently, although the carpentry was easy (Mr Elliott gave the impression that he could make a patient’s foot point any way he liked), the medical side of the treatment was complex. Thus, although a hip replacement from the carpentry side would only take about an hour, the overall treatment required still meant that the patient would need to be in hospital for two days, although work was being undertaken with a view to shortening this stay.


Essentially the message was that orthopaedic surgeons were there to improve quality of life. By the age of 65, it was almost inevitable that one or more of a persons’ joints would be causing pain (very active sportsmen might start to experience trouble around the age of 40). It was here that the orthopaedic surgeon could help, although it had to be recognised that nothing was as good as human tissue in withstanding the daily pressure that the body imposes upon itself. Even the frightening metal referred to in the opening paragraph had a limited life. Currently the unit offers a comprehensive range of services for patients with bone and soft tissues conditions, providing joint replacements, including revisions, hip, knee, shoulder, foot, ankle and spinal surgery.

There were a good number of questions throughout from the highly engaged audience. One member questioned the point of exercise if it hastened the deterioration process, but Mr Elliott was quick to point out that little or no exercise might lead to cardiovascular problems which were major issues in comparison to orthopaedic complaints and that walking was more beneficial than running. It was all a question of balance. There were also discussions on arthritis, cruciate ligament repair, disc problems (and the change in treatment for them), curvature of the spine and, surprisingly for me, lengthening of limbs. (Did you know that the Rowley Bristow unit pioneered this treatment in the UK? And is the only Unit that performs other very advanced techniques)

So all in all a highly informative and entertaining session. Let’s hope that the membership is treated to more like this. If you weren’t there, it was a pity you missed it.

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