Prior to 1965 there was no specialised neurosurgery service based in Wellington. However, there was some expertise in this field. Dr Harold Corkill, an Honorary Visiting Surgeon from 1926 - 1940, had trained at Barnes Hospital, St Louis, USA under Evarts Graham. During WW2, Corkill served with the Navy, and between 1943 - 1944 he was one of three surgeons providing a neurosurgical service to both the Royal Navy and the RAF. Post-war, Harold Corkill returned to Wellington Hospital as Visiting Surgeon, retiring in 1954.

In 1946, Mr Anthony James was appointed to assist Mr Murray Falconer in the Neurosurgery Unit based in Dunedin. These two surgeons undertook regular visits to other centres including Christchurch, Wellington and Palmerston North. Such visits were for patient assessment and follow-up. All neurosurgery required was done in Dunedin.

From the 1940s there had been local pressure to have a Neurosurgery Unit established at Wellington Hospital. The Health Department resisted these pressures for around twenty years. Board minutes of 1959 record concerns being raised over rumours that Palmerston North was being tipped as the site for a future 3rd Neurosurgery Unit. However, by May 1961, the Minister of Health reassured the Wellington Hospital Board that the third national unit would be in Wellington, but "not yet".

In 1964, with the encouragement of his friend, John North (Medical Superintendent), Tony James accepted a post at Wellington Hospital as Assistant General Surgeon. The Health Department were quick to state that this appointment did not automatically bring forward any decision to establish a unit in Wellington, but the following year they relented and the Unit was opened.

As with any such specialty, it is not possible to run a service with just one surgeon. Board minutes record the appointment in 1967 of Mr G P Duffy, a Birmingham-trained New Zealander, but it appears that he did not take up the appointment. The assistant post was readvertised and in March 1969, Mr Robert Southby commenced work. He stayed only a few months before returning to Melbourne. Mr Graham Martin was appointed in 1970.

Mr Russell Worth, who had been Neurosurgical Registrar at Wellington Hospital 1969 - 1971, returned from further neurosurgical training in Hull and in Adelaide in 1976 to be the third Neurosurgeon. Tony James retired in 1977. Mr V Balakrishnan was locum Neurosurgeon for three months in 1976, and joined the permanent staff in 1977. Russell Worth had to retire early in 1996 after a major cerebral haemorrhage. Martin Hunn was appointed to fill that position and after Graham Martin's retirement, Mr A Wickremesekera joined the team.


In 1965 the Unit had nine beds in Ward 8. By 1976, the ward was shared with Neurology and Orthopaedics. Facilities were very cramped. In 1982 the Unit moved to Ward 32, initially with twentytwo beds, later reduced to eighteen due to a shortage of nursing staff. In June 2003, as a result of decanting in preparation for building the new Regional Hospital, the Unit was moved once again, to share a ward with Orthopaedics, and now bed numbers were fifteen.






Last updated 29 October 2016.