John Beavis obituary

Trauma surgeon who devoted his 25-year retirement to treating victims in conflict zones, from Bosnia to Gaza, and training local physicians

In 1993, the orthopaedic and trauma surgeon John Beavis, who has died aged 78, was compelled to retire early through ill health. However, he was then able to devote the rest of his life to humanitarian work in some of the most dangerous places in the world.

After answering an appeal for British surgeons to help treat victims of the civil war in Bosnia, he made frequent visits to the besieged city of Sarajevo in the mid-1990s to work with and train local surgeons in trauma surgery. He also provided them with essential medical equipment and educational materials.

On a return flight he met the businessman Simon Oliver, who was so impressed by John’s commitment that he offered to fund the startup of a new charity, to be staffed by volunteer surgeons and physicians, and expand the work in Bosnia and other areas of conflict or natural disasters.

What started as the Bosnian Fund gave rise in 2000 to Ideals – International Disaster and Emergency Aid with Long-Term Support. Under John’s guidance as founder chairman, Ideals promoted primary trauma care (PTC) courses, which they deemed most cost-effective for the developing world. In 2003, John accompanied Ideals trustees and volunteers to Peshawar, in northern Pakistan, to set up the first PTC courses. These proved so successful that they were adopted in other parts of the country, with more than 2000 doctors receiving training in the immediate management of seriously injured victims of trauma.

The doctors proved invaluable when an earthquake hit northern Pakistan and surrounding areas in 2005. John arranged for food, medical equipment and tents to be delivered to the devastated village of Bedadi.

At the start of that year John had gone to Sri Lanka, following the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, identified a badly damaged village, and provided emergency medical aid. In addition, Ideals funds were used to repair fishing boats and a local school, and support other small community projects. John set great store by the renewal of village life and giving back people’s ability to earn a living.

From 2009 onwards, he and Ideals focused on Palestine, initially together with Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) in Gaza, establishing PTC courses. Largely because of the rapport John established with Palestinian medical colleagues, as well as managers and politicians, Ideals became involved in all aspects of rehabilitation and post-trauma care, such as occupational care and physiotherapy.

In partnership with the Tropical Health and Education Trust, three orthopaedic surgeons from Gaza received seven months’ training in complex limb reconstruction surgery at King’s College hospital in London. This proved invaluable to help the many civilian casualties of recent military assaults on Gaza.

I first met John when his knowledge of trauma helped us upgrade the burns and plastic surgery clinical services in Gaza and the West Bank. He visited the region 30 times altogether, always on a voluntary basis.

In 2011, John became a trustee of MAP and in 2015 joined the board of the International Medical Education Trust 2000, the other NGO working with Ideals and MAP in Palestine. He had the ability to defuse tense meetings and discussions by cracking a joke, often against himself, along the way to resolving serious arguments.

Born in Brighton and adopted by William Beavis, a cook in the Royal Navy, and his wife, Ann (nee McAninch), John soon shone at Varndean school and went to University College London, graduating first in biochemistry and then in medicine.

After qualifying as a doctor in 1967, he served as a medical officer (lieutenant, Royal Navy) to Royal Marine Commando Units until 1973 and developed his lifelong interest in trauma, orthopaedics, reconstructive surgery, the way modern weaponry damages living tissue and the effect of military conflict on both civilian victims and military personnel. He then specialised as an orthopaedic and trauma surgeon and worked in the NHS until the heart attack and bypass surgery that led to his retirement at the age of 53.

He was deputy director of the Leonard Cheshire Centre for Conflict Recovery (1995-2005), researching the role of medical relief provided in war and disaster; chaired the Be Safe charity, promoting protection against knife and gun crime (2000-05); and in 2001 was awarded the Bosnian Medal of Honour for his work in Sarajevo hospitals during and after the civil war. In the recent New Year’s honours he was appointed OBE.

In 1961 John married Kate (Kay) Frankland. She survives him, along with their son, Stuart, and daughters, Telina and Carysse.

• John Beavis, surgeon and humanitarian healthcare volunteer, born 8 June 1940; died 5 December 2018

Colin Green

The GuardianTramp

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