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John Wickham

BMJ 2017; 359 doi: (Published 12 December 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j5720
  1. Anne Gulland
  1. London
  1. annecgulland{at}

Consultant urologist who pioneered keyhole surgery in the UK

It was a neurosurgical house job in the early 1950s that proved a watershed moment for John Wickham. On his return to general surgery he was shocked by the “great slashes and blood and guts everywhere.”1 “When I came back to ordinary surgery I was just disgusted . . . I mean if you could be that delicate in neurosurgery, why couldn’t [general surgery] be the same?” he told an interviewer in 2012.1

He specialised in urology as he was interested in new developments, such as kidney dialysis and transplantation, but much of his work as a trainee surgeon focused on the removal of kidney stones. The standard operation at the time entailed making a large incision, leaving the patient with a “socking great gash,”1 having to take a month off work, and spending a week or so in hospital. All for the removal of a few tiny stones.

Wickham thought that there must be a better way. The breakthrough came when he teamed up with radiologist Michael Kellett, who was also interested in causing less trauma to the patient.

Percutaneous nephrolithotomy

They read about a two stage operation performed in Germany, and the pair travelled there to observe it. In November 1979 …

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