A dedicated doctor who began working as an NHS surgeon in the month of its inception continues to work as a medical professor five days a week – 71 years later.
Professor Harold Ellis, 93, qualified as a doctor in July 1948 and immediately began training as a surgeon in the service’s earliest days.
Now seven decades on he is still working and is believed to be one of the longest serving medical professionals in the UK.
He worked at hospitals around the country and ran the surgical unit at the now-closed Westminster Hospital alongside the top job of professor of surgery – responsible for teaching and research – which he began in 1960.
He continued as a surgeon and professor of surgery within the hospital until his retirement in 1989.
The sprightly granddad-of-six then began teaching anatomy at Cambridge University.
Since then he has been teaching anatomy at Guy’s Hospital in central London as part of the University of London’s medical school staff and is full of admiration of the surgeons of the future.
He commutes there from his home in East Finchley each week day.
Professor Ellis reflected on his “fantastically enjoyable” career and the huge changes he has seen in the NHS over the years.
He said: “It was a very interesting job. I dedicated my whole life to the NHS, I’m devoted to it.
“Of course it has undergone tremendous change and it’s got now extremely expensive.
“We’ve got to decide what we are going to spend money on – are we going to build nuclear submarines or are we going to build hospitals?
“The job of a surgeon is completely different, most of the illnesses I would have treated aren’t an issue anymore.
“And a lot of the things surgeons do nowadays I would never have done in my day.
“Things have changed quite drastically, it’s incredible. I thoroughly enjoyed my time working as a surgeon and continue to enjoy what I do now.”
Prof Ellis was born in the East End of London in 1926 to Polish-Jewish parents, who worked as a barber and a dressmaker.
From St Olave’s Grammar School he gained a government scholarship and a place to read medicine at Queen’s College, Oxford.
He avoided being conscripted during the Second World War because of his studies and his first job was at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford.
Surgeon jobs in hospitals in Oxford, Sheffield, Northampton and London followed before be started at Westminster Hospital.
Harold believes his ability to continue working for the seven consecutive decade is a testament to how much the NHS has improved the quality of people’s lives.
He added: “In a past generation, statistically I should have been dead about 25 years ago.
“It used to be that someone of 75 was seen as an old man, nowadays people of that age are running marathons.”
Professor Ellis has been married to “wonderful and devoted” wife Wendy for 63 years, with whom he has two children and six grandchildren.
As for why he continues to work into his 90s, Professor Ellis joked: “My wife won’t let me in the house during the day, she likes to get me out in the morning!”
The professor is renowned among medics for his textbook Clinical Anatomy, now in its 13th edition.
He added: “I had always been interested in teaching anatomy while I was a surgeon, it was a hobby.
“Many years ago I wrote a book on anatomy for medical students and that’s still going strong.
“So when I retired I took up my hobby full-time.
“I still find it very interesting. Teaching medicine is a very practical thing. You can’t learn from books, it has to be learnt on the job.
“You have to use a human body to teach anatomy.
“I keep telling my colleagues if they find I’m getting too old and past it, tell me and I’l leave.”
He has also produced hundreds of papers and dozens of books, the most recent of which, called Stories from the Operating Theatre and Other Essays, was released this week.
It is based on monthly columns he has written for the Journal of Perioperative Practice and explores some of the most significant moments in medical history.
The publication looks at Horatio Nelson’s amputation, through to the introduction of anaesthesia and Marie Curie’s discovery of radium.
And he was full of praise for the students he teaches, who he described as a “very bright lot”.
He added: “I admire the modern students. They work hard and they are willing to listen.
“More than 50 per cent of students these days are women, which is great.
“When I was a young doctor, there were lots of female doctors and some very distinguished ones, but only a small number of women would go into surgery.”
Over the years Professor Ellis has also served as Vice President of the Royal College of Surgeons and of the Royal Society of Medicine and a past president of the British Association of Surgical Oncology.
As well as work Professor Ellis enjoys gardening and going on country walks.