What We Do
UCT's Division of Neurosurgery is responsible for the neurosurgical management of patients at two internationally-renowned teaching hospitals, treating patients from across the Western Cape as well as elsewhere in South Africa and abroad. Our clinical platform enables us to teach students, train specialists and pursue cutting-edge research into conditions relevant to our clinical practice. We treat various diseases of the brain and spinal cord including traumatic brain injury, brain tumours, vascular diseases of the brain and various types of stroke, spinal disorders, congenital abnormalities, hydrocephalus and functional disorders such as epilepsy.
Neurosurgery demands the highest standards of practice, while remaining mindful of the needs and priorities of a developing country. We strive to offer our patients the most appropriate clinical care and provide an academic environment that nurtures honest reflection and innovative thinking.
Our team is made up of specialists, consultants, fellows, researchers and registrars. Our tradition of maintaining close ties with colleagues in private practice enables us to contribute to the care of patients across our community and to contribute to the growth and leadership of our specialty, nationally and internationally.
We provide intensive-care, high-care and general-ward level medical and nursing care at our dedicated neurosurgical facilities. We run operating sessions three days each week, with teams performing surgery concurrently. We have a strong emphasis on minimally-invasive interventions and have developed high-level expertise in neuroendoscopy, radiosurgery and interventional neuroradiology. We perform trauma and emergency neurosurgery on a 24 hourly basis, seven days a week.
Our full complement of neurosurgical staff attend weekly outpatient appointments. In addition, various special multidisciplinary clinics provide care for patients with brain tumours, pituitary disorders and congenital conditions such as spina bifida, neurofibromatosis and craniofacial abnormalities.
Groote Schuur Hospital (GSH)
Groote Schuur Hospital (GSH) is one of the major teaching hospitals in South Africa. Founded in 1938 with a major expansion project in 1984 culminating in the “New Groote Schuur Hospital”, the hospital has just celebrated its 75th anniversary.
The institution shot to world-wide fame in 1967 when Christiaan Barnard conducted the first human heart transplant at GSH. The hospital provides care and training in all major disciplines of medicine on a total budget of R1 488, 000 000 and has 895 beds, 3 173 staff, treats over 43 000 in-patients and has almost 470 000 people attending outpatient clinics annually.
GSH has one of the largest neurosurgical patient loads in Southern Africa, treating approximately 3,500 outpatients and performing in excess of 1,000 neurosurgical operations annually. The University of Cape Town’s Medical School is situated across the road from this tertiary care training hospital.
Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital
The adult services at GSH are complemented by the paediatric services at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. Since the
appointment of the first full-time paediatric neurosurgeon Dr Warwick Peacock 35 years ago, this service has established a leading reputation nationally and internationally.
These two hospitals serve as the major teaching hospitals for the University of Cape Town (UCT), and the UCT Division of Neurosurgery is responsible for the integrated care of neurosurgical patients at both these hospitals.
The Associated Academic Hospitals are integral components of the Health Service of the Provincial Government of the Western Cape. The main functions of the hospital are to provide patient care (especially at tertiary and higher levels), teaching and research.
Groote Schuur is Dutch for ‘Great Barn’, named after the original estate that was established by Dutch settlers in the 17th century and subsequently bequeathed to the nation by Cecil John Rhodes. At its inception, the hospital was intended to be ‘a South African and not a Cape Town institution’, training medical students from all over the country (and happily we can now say, from all over the continent).
UCT Private Academic Hospital
A highly specialised private hospital, the UCT Private Academic Hospital is located within Groote Schuur Hospital but is administered separately by Netcare in partnership with the University.
Neurosurgery emerged as an independent discipline in Cape Town with the return of Dr Herman de Villiers Hamman in 1946, following training in Munich and Edinburgh. He initially faced opposition to the establishment of a neurosurgical unit at Groote Schuur Hospital, but was eventually appointed to the staff, initially as a registrar in March 1948 and then as honorary neurosurgeon in 1949.
Initially operating facilities were made available in the general surgical theatres but this was not an ideal situation and Dr Hamman discovered an unused theatre suite in the Groote Schuur Hospital Nursing Home. This had been built as a Private Block but had never been fully commissioned and the theatres were literally falling apart. At Dr Hamman’s insistence, this space was housed the neurosurgical theatre from 15 August 1948. Neurosurgery took root in this building (subsequently known as “J Block”) until the move to New Main Building in 1988.
Dr JP van Niekerk became Hamman’s first trainee in 1950, followed by Dr Peter Keet and Dr AP Rose-Innes. After training with Norman Dott in Edinburgh, Mr Alec Gonski was appointed as the second consultant in 1952, followed by Keet and Rose-Innes. 1966 saw the appointment of Dr Peter le Roux and Dr JC “Kay” de Villiers, who had trained with Mr Wyllie McKissock in London.
Kay de Villiers became the first full-time head of neurosurgery in 1970, was promoted to associate professor at UCT in 1972 and became the first incumbent of the Helen and Morris Mauerberger Chair of Neurosurgery in 1976. He was followed by Jonathan C Peter in 1993 and Graham Fieggen in 2008.