NGH surgeon gets MBE for amazing work in Africa

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Robert carries out hernia operations that can save farmers' lives

A surgeon at Northampton General Hospital has received an MBE in the King’s New Year’s Honours List for his services to health in Northern Ghana, Africa.

Robert Hicks, a Consultant Vascular Surgeon at the hospital for the last 23 years, received the honour for leading a multi-disciplinary surgical team and other healthcare workers to support the villages of the Savannah region surrounding Carpenter in Northern Ghana.

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Mr Hicks is married to NGH Specialist Doctor (Breast unit),Dr Jo Inchley and they have three children, Ted, Charlie and Elsa. He started his work in Africa in 2011 working with a worldwide charity, Hernia International.

Rob Hicks, Karen Leyden, Nichola Patterson and Ebenezeer Boateng with the surgical team Rob Hicks, Karen Leyden, Nichola Patterson and Ebenezeer Boateng with the surgical team
Rob Hicks, Karen Leyden, Nichola Patterson and Ebenezeer Boateng with the surgical team

In 2018, along with his wife Jo, and NGH Consultant Paediatrician, Anne Smith, he set up a Northamptonshire-based charity Hernia International Carpenter (Reg. charity 1178340) to concentrate their efforts on supporting the Carpenter area.

He said: “I am humbled and incredibly proud by the recognition the MBE brings for all the work of our Charity for those people who live in this underserved region of Ghana in a way that has far exceeded my expectations.

“Each year, teams of volunteers, including lots of staff at NGH, have given up their time to provide healthcare for this community. Each one of them has made a lasting difference.

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“I have made nine trips to Ghana since 2011 and six of which have been since we launched our own charity in 2018.

Robert Hicks with his wife Jo, and son Ted, in Ghana.Robert Hicks with his wife Jo, and son Ted, in Ghana.
Robert Hicks with his wife Jo, and son Ted, in Ghana.

“Overall we have performed more than 2,500 hernia operations including 90 in nine days in our last trip in November 2023.”

Mr Hicks was inspired to start working in Africa when he saw how much of a life changing difference simple hernia operations – which he did commonly at NGH – could make to a local community.

He said: “Repairing hernias reduces suffering, pain and in some cases prevents death from strangulation of the bowel. Most Ghanaian patients are farmers reliant on working to support their families. By having their hernias repaired, the patients are able to return to work and continue providing for their families.”

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Hernia International Carpenter has been working in partnership with Canadian charity GRID (Ghana Rural Integrated Development) and Ghanaian charity NEA (Northern Empowerment Association) which has raised more than $10m to build the Leyaata Hospital in Carpenter. This was commissioned and opened in 2022 as part of a major initiative to improve the lives of local people.

The team in Ghana during a visit in 2018.The team in Ghana during a visit in 2018.
The team in Ghana during a visit in 2018.

Hernia International Carpenter is now working to raise sufficient funds to develop a centre for health education and research. This centre will allow us to support the educational needs of the staff and bring virtual and in-person training to professionals from all over Ghana.

NGH Consultant Paediatrician Anne Smith, who is one of the founders of Hernia International Carpenter, said: “Rob’s passion for his work in Ghana inspired me to join with the UK team in 2017 as a team Paediatrician.

“His courage and leadership sparked my continued commitment to this collective partnership against global health inequality. For over 10 years he has stepped outside of his comfort zone to selflessly reduce this health inequality, whilst also training local surgeons to ensure sustainable healthcare in this region.

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“It has been a great pleasure to work alongside Rob and Jo at Hernia International Carpenter. This honour is very well deserved. “

NGH Consultant Anaesthetist Karen Leyden, who has been on five trips with Rob, said: “I feel hugely privileged to have been able to join Rob in this work regularly since 2018. It takes substantial vision, bravery, and dedication to lead multiple teams and deliver excellent healthcare to a remote population in great need.

“Rob has displayed these qualities in abundance, as well as being a motivational and supportive leader. Many of us work together in the NHS and our trust in each other is vital when working in an unfamiliar environment.

“The work in Ghana is a fantastic partnership with local and other international staff - we always learn from them and bring ideas home with us to strengthen healthcare delivery both in Ghana and the UK. It is inspiring to see the project transitioning from, primarily, delivery of service, to supporting, teaching, and training with the staff of the new hospital.”

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NGH Medication Safety Pharmacist Karin Start went with Robert on a trip in 2018, and was delighted to hear he has been recognised with an MBE. She said: “He is always so humble and unassuming but he works like a trojan and the volume of operations he gets through when he is in Africa is amazing.

“He starts surgery so early in the morning and is always the last to arrive at the end of the day for the meal. He is enormously energetic and he motivates the team who are with him and brings out all their strengths.”

NGH’s Medical Director, Hemant Nemade, said: “Robert, and all of our staff who have been involved in this amazing work, travel to Ghana in their own time and have made an enormous contribution to many hundreds of patients in that country. This has often including repeat visits over many years. I am extremely proud to see Robert receiving this national honour for his contribution to this outstanding work.”

Clinicians from Northampton General Hospital who have been involved in the work include Dr Karen Leyden, Consultant Anaesthetist, Dr Anne Smith, Consultant Paediatrician, Jo Inchley, Specialist Doctor, Dr Helen Warwick, David Hunter Consultant Surgeon, Elke Von Haefton, Specialist General Surgeon, Dr Neil Martin Specialist Care Dentist, Dr Carolyn Eaton, Karin Start, Pharmacist.

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Melissa Frost, Ashley Gayton, Katie Rivett and Dan Hawkins from Main Theatres. Nichola Blunt, Jodi Baker, Charlotte York, Ebenezer Boateng and Gill Doran from Three Shires Hospital. Peter Cunningham, Optometrist, Elsa Hicks and Ted Hicks.

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