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The Nuffield Department of Surgery was founded in 1937 as the result of a benefaction by William Morris (Lord Nuffield). The Department was initially based in the Anaesthetics, Surgery and Canteen (ASC) building at the Radcliffe Infirmary in central Oxford. In 1979 it moved to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Headington.

The Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences in 1937, based in the Anaesthetics, Surgery and Canteen (ASC) building at the Radcliffe Infirmary in central Oxford.

The first Nuffield Professor of Surgery was a Neurosurgeon, Hugh Cairns. Cairns was Australian by birth and his early medical training was in Adelaide, but later in Oxford, London and Boston. He contributed greatly to the establishment of neurosurgery as a discipline in the UK, training many neurosurgeons who subsequently practiced in the UK and throughout the Commonwealth.

The second Nuffield Professor of Surgery was Philip Allison, a Cardiothoracic Surgeon who trained in Leeds. He took up the post in 1954, and was responsible for the development of the heart-lung machine in England. It is fair to say that much of the innovative work performed during the Allison era can be credited to his First Assistant, Alf Gunning, who came with him from Leeds. Gunning and Allison pioneered heart valve homografts and pig xenografts, techniques subsequently used in many centres round the world.  He is also known for describing the condition of fleeting blindness. Gunning continued to work for many years as a respected Cardiothoracic Surgeon in Oxford and is now retired.

Professor Sir Peter Morris took over as Chairman of the Department in 1974.  Again an Australian, Professor Morris trained in Melbourne, Boston and London in general and vascular surgery and transplantation.  Professor Morris pioneered the successful development of kidney transplantation in Oxford and the UK for which he was recognised by a knighthood in 1996.  Professor Sir Peter Morris retired in October 2001 to take up the post of President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. He is currently completing a full history of the department.

Professor Jonathan Meakins became the fourth Professor of Surgery in 2002. A Canadian, Professor Meakins qualified MD at the University of Western Ontario in 1966, DSc (Cincinnati) in 1972 in Surgical Infection and Immunobiology. He was the Surgeon-in-Chief at the McGill University Health Centre, and Professor and Chair of Surgery at McGill University (1998-2002) before his appointment at Oxford in November 2002 as the Nuffield Professor of Surgery and Head of Department. Research into the immunobiology, epidemiology and management of surgical infection was funded by the MRC which subsequently supported evaluative studies in laparoscopy.

Today, Professor Freddie Hamdy, leads the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences.  Previously, Professor Hamdy was Professor and Head of Urology at the University of Sheffield and Head of the Section of Oncology at the University of Sheffield School of Medicine.  He took up this position in October 2008.