Henry Marsh (neurosurgeon)

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Henry Marsh

Henry Thomas Marsh - 16091909.jpg
Marsh visiting Ternopil National Medical University in September 2016
Born (1950-03-05) 5 March 1950 (age 73)
Alma materUniversity College, Oxford Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine.
Known forawake craniotomy techniques and neurosurgical work in Ukraine.
SpouseKate Fox
Scientific career

Henry Thomas Marsh CBE FRCS (born 5 March 1950) is an English neurosurgeon and best-selling author, a pioneer of awake craniotomy techniques and of neurosurgical work in Ukraine. His widely acclaimed memoir Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery was published in 2014.[1] It has been translated into 37 languages. According to The Economist, this memoir is "so elegantly written it is little wonder some say that in Mr Marsh neurosurgery has found its Boswell."[2] His second memoir Admissions: A life in brain surgery was published in 2017. And Finally, his most recent book, was published in 2022 to critical acclaim and explores his transition from doctor to patient.

Early life[edit]

Marsh is the youngest of his parents' four children. His parents were the law reformer Norman Stayner Marsh (1913–2008) and bookseller Christiane "Christel" Christinnecke (1917-2000). His mother relocated from Halle in Germany to England in 1939 after she had been denounced to the Gestapo for "making anti-Nazi comments".[3] They married in London in the late summer of 1939.[4] They played a leading role in the creation of the human rights organisation Amnesty International, the brainchild of the lawyer and activist Peter Benenson.

Marsh was born in 1950, in the countryside outside Oxford. His father taught law at Oxford University.[5] Marsh attended the Dragon School in Oxford.[6] The family later moved to Clapham in London and he was sent to Westminster School, for a while as a boarder. Academically successful, he studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at University College, Oxford University, achieving First Class Honours, before graduating with Honours in Medicine from the Royal Free Medical School. His educational background and its social implications, however, left psychological issues and Marsh, contemplating suicide, was a voluntary patient for a while, taking a year off from studying to work as a porter in a northern hospital.[5]


Marsh was until 2015 the senior consultant neurosurgeon at the Atkinson Morley Wing at St George's Hospital, south London, one of the country's largest specialist brain surgery units.

He specialised in operating on the brain under local anaesthetic and was the subject of a major BBC documentary Your Life in Their Hands[7] in 2004, which won the Royal Television Society Gold Medal.

He has been working with neurosurgeons in the former Soviet Union, mainly in Ukraine since 1992 and his work there was the subject of the BBC Storyville film The English Surgeon from 2007.[8]

He has a particular interest in the influence of hospital buildings and design on patient outcomes and staff morale; he has broadcast and lectured widely on this subject.

In 2017 Marsh published Admissions: Life as a Brain Surgeon, a second memoir with Weidenfeld & Nicolson, an imprint of Orion. In 2022 he published "And Finally" Jonathan Cape, in which he describes his transition from being a doctor to being a patient with cancer. He writes regularly for the New Statesman magazine and has written for the Guardian, the Times, the New York Times,The Sunday Times and the online Ukrainian newspaper Ukrainska Pravda.

Marsh was the castaway on BBC Radio 4's long-running Desert Island Discs in September 2018. His favourite selection was Better Not Look Down by B.B. King.[9] In 2023 he co-founded with Dr Rachel Clarke the charity Hospice Ukraine, which aims to help palliative care doctors and nurses in Ukraine. He has been working with medical colleagues in Ukraine since 1992, and has continued to visit since the Russian invasion.

Awards and honours[edit]

Marsh was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2010 Birthday Honours.[10] Also in 2010 he presented the Leslie Oliver Oration at Queen's Hospital.[11] in 2023 Marsh was awarded the Clement Price Thomas medal by the Royal College of Surgeons (England).

Personal life[edit]

Henry Marsh is married to the social anthropologist Kate Fox, author of the best-selling "Watching the English", and spends his spare time making furniture and keeping bees.[12] He is a younger brother of the architectural historian Bridget Cherry.[13]

Marsh is a Patron of My Death My Decision, an organisation which seeks a more compassionate approach to dying in the UK, including the legal right to a medically-assisted death, if that is a person's persistent wish.[14]

In April 2021 it was announced that Marsh had been diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer,[15] which as of August 2022 is now in remission.[16] He has, in the meantime, visited Ukraine to teach and advise local doctors.[16]


  • Marsh, Henry (2014). Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 9781780225920.
  • Marsh, Henry (2017). Admissions: A life in Brain Surgery. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 9781474603867.
  • Marsh, Henry (2022). And Finally: Matters of Life and Death. Jonathan Cape. ISBN 9781787331136.


  1. ^ Marsh, Henry (2014). Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery. Orion. ISBN 978-0297869870.
  2. ^ "Books of the Year: Page turners". The Economist. 6 December 2014. Retrieved 7 December 2014.
  3. ^ William Goodhart (27 October 2008). "Norman Marsh". Founding member of the Law Commission, reformer and academic. The Guardian, London. Retrieved 23 September 2018.
  4. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 23 September 2018.
  5. ^ a b "Henry Marsh - a life in brain surgery". March 2018.
  6. ^ "OD News". The OD. Vol. 1. Dragon School. 2011. p. 22.
  7. ^ "I was awake during brain surgery". BBC News. BBC. 9 March 2004. Retrieved 19 August 2008.
  8. ^ Sanderson, Greg (28 March 2008). "Brain surgery with a DIY drill". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 19 August 2008.
  9. ^ Presenter: Kirsty Young; Interviewed Guest: Henry Marsh; Producer: Sarah Taylor (23 September 2018). "Desert Island Discs: Henry Marsh". Desert Island Discs. BBC. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 28 September 2018.
  10. ^ "No. 59446". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 June 2010. p. 23.
  11. ^ "Third Annual Leslie Oliver Oration". Neurosurgery News. Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust. 16 January 2010. Archived from the original on 30 August 2012. Retrieved 7 October 2011.
  12. ^ Wagner, Erica (March 2014). "Life and death at his fingertips: watching a brain surgeon at work". New Statesman.
  13. ^ Wintle, Angela (11 June 2017). "British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh on his passion for tools, doing up houses and beekeeping". Sunday Times online. Retrieved 15 June 2017.(subscription required)
  14. ^ "About Us". mydeath-decision.org. Retrieved 25 March 2021.
  15. ^ "Assisted dying inquiry essential, leading brain surgeon says". BBC News. April 2021.
  16. ^ a b Henry Marsh, How brain surgeon Henry Marsh went from doctor to patient,' The Guardian 13 August 2022

Further reading[edit]

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