In 1954, Harry Platt became the first orthopaedic specialist to be elected President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. His presidency marked the pinnacle, but by no means the end, of a distinguished career. During the 1920s and 30s he had established a formidable reputation as an orthopaedic surgeon in Manchester and the North West region at a time when the practice of specialist branches of medicine or surgery remained exceptional, particularly in the provinces. In 1939, he became one of the first Professors of Orthopaedic Surgery in the United Kingdom when the University of Manchester appointed him to a personal chair. Between 1939 and 1945, he was indefatigable as consultant adviser alongside Tom Fairbank to the wartime civilian Emergency Medical Service. After the war, he continued to work tirelessly towards better hospital services within the nascent National Health Service. In the late 1950s and 1960s, he chaired influential committees on the care of children in hospitals, on emergency services and on nursing education. He was a gifted administrator, able not only to articulate a vision for orthopaedic and hospital services of the future, but also to make that vision a reality.
Harry Platt was born on October 7th, 1886 in Thornham, Lancashire, the eldest of five sons born to Ernest and Jessie Platt. As a child he contracted tuberculosis of the knee; his mother took him to Liverpool to consult Robert Jones, the renowned orthopaedic specialist. Jones was to play a pivotal rôle in the organisation of orthopaedic services during the First World War and thus influence the course of Platt's subsequent post-war career. In 1903, Platt tried for the Mendelssohn Scholarship of the Royal College of Music. When he failed, he determined on a career in medicine and sat University of London matriculation examinations in January 1904. Later that year he entered the University of Manchester and began his pre-clinical medical studies. Platt was an exceptional student. In July 1906 he won a junior exhibition in physiology, this was followed in 1907 by the Senior Platt Exhibition in physiology. In July 1909, he took both the final MB, ChB of the University of Manchester and the London University examinations. In the latter he won the University Gold Medal.
In 1909 Platt began his career as a doctor at the Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) serving as house surgeon to William Thorburn. Having decided on surgery, in the early part of 1911 he moved to London to take various post-graduate courses at specialist hospitals. In December 1911 he took examinations for the London degree of Master of Surgery. During the academic year 1911/12, he served as Demonstrator in Anatomy along with his friend, the future neuro-surgeon, Geoffrey Jefferson, in the department of Grafton Elliot Smith whose powerful intellect deeply influenced both young men. Their study of the parotid gland was published as a joint paper in Anatomischer Anzeiger in 1912. While working in the Anatomy Department, Platt was able to prepare for his Fellowship examinations, the first part of which he took in May 1912. A few months later he returned to London, determined this time to get wider experience in orthopaedics and to take further classes to prepare for his final fellowship examinations in February 1913. That month, he was appointed Resident Surgical Officer at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. During his residency, the 17th International Congress of Medicine met in London. Robert Jones was president of the Orthopaedic Sub-Section. Platt attended lectures where he met several prominent surgeons from the USA.
The following month, Harry Platt sailed from Liverpool to Boston, USA, at the expense of his father who had been persuaded that this final series of residencies would 'finish' his son's surgical education. In Boston, he worked at the famous Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), the Boston Children's Hospital (BCH) and the Carney Hospital. He attended clinics, assisted in the treatment of patients, observed operations and was entertained by Elliott Brackett, Chief of Orthopaedics at MGH and Robert Lovett, Surgeon-in-Chief at the BCH. There is no doubt that the experience gained during these six months shaped Harry's views on how efficient orthopaedic services should be organised with hospitals linked to educational provision. He was impressed by the emphasis laid on the rehabilitation of patients through exercise and occupation.
In early spring of 1914, Platt learnt that a vacancy for an Honorary Surgeon was soon to arise at Ancoats Hospital in Manchester. He returned from the US in April and was duly elected Honorary Surgeon. Ancoats Hospital had been established as a dispensary in the 1820s and was situated in one of the most densely packed industrial areas of the city. Although poorly endowed compared to the Manchester Royal Infirmary, from the 1880s facilities had improved and the hospital had developed a reputation for excellence in surgery. Many accident cases were received every year and Platt immediately persuaded his surgical colleagues to refer all fracture cases to a special 'fracture clinic' under his direction. This was the first Fracture Clinic in the UK and Platt's first step towards a surgical practice concentrating wholly on orthopaedic cases.
From August 1914, various organisations began to prepare for treating war casualties. The Second Western General Hospital was set up with beds in various hospitals and schools throughout the city, providing treatment for soldiers brought back from France and Belgium. Platt's former Chief, William Thorburn took responsibility for organising local surgical services. In April 1915, Platt was commissioned into the Territorial Section of the Royal Army Medical Corps, and in June was appointed Captain. Through the influence of Robert Jones, who had been appointed Military Director of Orthopaedics in March 1916, specialist orthopaedic units were set up for the treatment of fractures, gunshot wounds and other casualties. In mid-1917, Jones visited Manchester to initiate an Orthopaedic Section of the Second Western General Hospital. Here Platt was in charge of six wards with one operating theatre and a gymnasium, with nursing staff supplied by the Red Cross. Stopford, Platt and Jefferson made important clinical and operative observations on peripheral nerve injuries during this period which formed the basis for Platt's 1921 monograph, The surgery of peripheral nerve injuries of war for which he was awarded the degree of MD winning the Gold Medal. In October 1916, Platt had married Gertrude Turney, a nurse at Manchester Royal Infirmary. After the war, they rented a modest house within the Victoria Park Estate close to the Infirmary and University, and had five children. In 1924, the family moved into Newbury, a large imposing residence within Victoria Park. In 1919, Grangethorpe Hospital became the responsibility of the Ministry of Pensions. Until 1927, Platt continued to direct surgery within the hospital and operated regularly there.
In 1920, Platt was invited by Robert Jones to join the staff of the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital, Oswestry and the same year was appointed Surgical Director of the Ethel Hedley Hospital in the Lake District, a children's orthopaedic hospital financed by an industrialist in memory of his wife. From 1920 to 1948 he also became Consulting Orthopaedic Surgeon to the Lancashire County Council, organising after-care clinics and, from 1927, serving on the staff of the Biddulph Grange Hospital near Stoke on Trent, the first orthopaedic hospital for children provided by a local authority. He was particularly interested in the treatment of children throughout his long career as a clinician. This sheer range of ancillary appointments alongside his principal hospital appointment at Ancoats would have daunted anyone with less energy and determination. However, he also developed a wide private practice, a financial necessity for all consultant surgeons of this period. He cultivated relationships with local general practitioners through post-graduate lectures and courses in orthopaedics offered at Ancoats. Platt was not the deftest of surgeons. He himself always regarded T.P. McMurray of Liverpool as the best technician of his generation of orthopaedic surgeons. However, his name is associated with an operation on the shoulder joint which prevents frequent dislocations of the joint. The same technique was also performed by the Italian surgeon, Vittorio Putti and hence became known as the Putti-Platt operation. Platt was also regarded as an expert in treatment of congenital dislocation of the hip.
Platt's clinical commitments did not preclude active involvement in a range of professional organisations. From 1918 until 1921 he served as the first secretary of the British Orthopaedic Association, drafting its constitution and assisting in establishing the Association on a firm footing, thus securing his position at the forefront of post-war professional development in both the UK and the USA. Platt was the moving force behind the Manchester Surgical Society, serving as first honorary secretary from 1922 until 1930, and as president in 1931. He organised the programme of lectures and meetings ensuring all branches of surgery were represented encouraging a sense of collaboration and co-operation between surgeons in the various post-war voluntary and municipal hospitals of the city. During the 1920s and 30s Platt produced a steady stream of professional publications. In 1926 Platt was honoured to be asked by Robert Jones to assist in the revision of Orthopaedic Surgery(first published in 1923), the standard textbook for the specialism. The second edition was published in 1929.
In 1926, Platt was appointed clinical lecturer in orthopaedic surgery in the Medical School of the University of Manchester. Undergraduate students were encouraged to attend out-patient clinics at Ancoats Hospital and take advantage of operating experience in orthopaedics offered in Platt's Unit there. This was an important development for the teaching of surgery within the medical school for two reasons. Firstly, it signalled a recognition of what Platt would have called the 'segmentation' of surgery which had accelerated since the First World War. Secondly it reflected the growing reputation of surgery outside the Manchester Royal Infirmary, the principal teaching hospital of the University and Manchester's premier professional institution. MRI was slow to embrace the trend toward specialisation but in 1932, MRI advertised for an Honorary Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon. Extensive facilities were provided but were not ready until 1934 and Platt continued to operate at Ancoats for the first two years of his Infirmary appointment. Platt proved an able politician and administrator capitalising on the 1935 BMA report on fractures to persuade the authorities including the newly established Manchester Joint Hospitals Advisory Board to fund a completely new orthopaedic building at MRI to serve as the main fracture unit for the central area of the city. The Minister of Health opened the new building, affectionately known as Platt's Plaster Palace, in 1939. The same year both Platt and Jefferson were appointed to personal chairs at the University of Manchester in Orthopaedic Surgery and Neurosurgery respectively, recognising their achievements within these specialist areas of clinical practice. Platt had turned sixty in October 1946. He was an energetic man who did not see himself as ready for retirement. He therefore persuaded the Infirmary authorities to extend his appointment for a further five years to 1951. That year he also retired from the University and was created Emeritus Professor. The University failed to appoint anyone to succeed him as Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, the Ministry of Health began organising medical services to cope with the anticipated large number of civilian casualties. In Spring 1940, Platt was appointed part-time consultant adviser in orthopaedics to the Emergency Medical Service, effectively taking responsibility for the control of orthopaedic services in the North of England. Platt travelled extensively ensuring facilities for the efficient treatment of fractures and other injuries and advising on a wide range of matters associated with civilian hospital services. The work of the Emergency Medical Services together with the surveys of hospitals by the British Medical Association made a significant contribution to the planning of a post-war national health service based on very large regional units. Through his war-time appointment and his role within both the University and the Manchester Royal Infirmary, Platt was well-placed to influence post-war developments. He remained an influential figure within the Manchester Regional Hospital Board and continued as Consultant Adviser on Orthopaedics to the Ministry of Health. Platt was knighted in 1948 for his contributions to the medical profession, particularly in war-time. He chaired three significant committees at national level. In the mid 1950s he was appointed chairman of the Central Health Services Council (CHSC) Committee on the welfare of children in hospital which argued for more compassionate treatment of young patients, emphasising the importance of involving parents. In 1959, he chaired the CHSC Committee on Accident and Emergency Services which sought to establish the principals upon which a national system of 'A " E' services could be built. In particular their report emphasised the importance of identifying a limited number of hospitals within any one region where a comprehensive service under the direction of a senior clinician could be established. He was also asked to chair a committee of the Royal College of Nursing looking at the reform of nursing education in the context of the changing nature of medical practice. The report of this committee was published in 1964 and was known as the 'Platt Report'.
In 1949, Platt was elected Vice-President of the Royal College of Surgeons. He had served on Council since 1940 and had played an important role in securing funds to repair the College's London building which had been severely damaged by bombing in 1940. In 1954 he succeeded Cecil Wakeley as President. His election reflected the increasing recognition of orthopaedics not simply as a specialism alongside general surgery but as part of a broad spectrum of a general discipline based on shared, fundamental principles. His Presidency also enabled increased activity at international level. He had already served as President of the Société Internationale de Chirurgie Orthopédique from 1949 to 1954. As PRCS he lent his support and influence along with the American College of Surgeons to the proposal for an International Federation of Surgical Colleges which came into being under Platt's presidency in 1958. He served as president until 1966. Many honours followed his presidency of the Royal College, including honorary doctorates and fellowships. As was customary then, he was created Baronet in 1958. In the 1960s and 70s he continued to travel widely, lecturing on behalf of several organisations including the English Speaking Union and the British Council in the USA, Canada, Israel, Australia, South Africa and India. Platt lectured extensively on orthopaedic subjects and on the history of medicine. In 1976, Sir Harry Platt celebrated his 90th Birthday. He was still active in the professional community of Manchester, travelling the short distance from his home in Rusholme Gardens to lunch in the consultants' dining room at the Infirmary most days. From 1980, he became increasingly deaf and ventured out less often. However, he was determined to reach his century and did so amid great celebrations in October 1986. He died suddenly at his apartment two months later on 20 December 1986.