A Newcastle brain surgeon has been made an OBE for his work providing life-saving operations in both the North East and India.

Growing up in Chitagong, now in Bangladesh, then part of Pakistan, Ram Prasad Sengupta could hardly have imagined his life today as a world-renowned neurosurgeon, honoured by royalty for his incredible work.

Professor Sengupta, 79, known to friends in Newcastle as Robin, was born into extreme poverty. Despite his intellect, his family couldn’t afford to send him to school, so he sold fruit on the streets and learned what he could from any books he could get his hands on.

Eventually, he made it to school, defying the odds to become a student of medicine at Calcutta University.

On graduating, Prof Sengupta knew he wanted to become a surgeon, but he couldn’t afford the fees required to study surgery full-time in India.

He had heard that in Britain, you could earn money working for the NHS while studying surgery, so in 1961, aged 24, he moved to the other side of the world.

“I jumped on the ship, completely unprepared, arrived in London, somehow got a job, and I’ve never looked back,” he said.

“I wasn’t very experienced as a doctor, I’d just come out of medical school and come straight to another country, but people were so kind and I learned a lot.

“I moved to Newcastle in 1962, and for all these years the people here have been wonderful.”

Professor Robin Sengupta
Professor Robin Sengupta (Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

For 51 years, Prof Sengupta worked as a neurosurgeon, mainly based in the North East, at Newcastle General Hospital and then the RVI , only leaving for a brief stint studying at Harvard University in America.

Over the course of his career, his cutting-edge work has seen him treat countless patients, and pioneer a type of brain aneurysm operation.

In 2002, he decided to channel his talent into helping people living in similar conditions to the ones he experienced as a boy, and founded the Institute of Neurosciences Kolkata.

The institute, which treated its first patients in 2009, provides affordable treatment for people from across the East of India suffering from brain injuries and diseases.

In an area with huge pockets of poverty, the institute is dedicated to treating anyone who needs them, with subsidised and free treatment for poor patients, especially children, and a proportion of its beds reserved especially for poverty-stricken children and women.

He now spends half his time working in Kolkata at the institute, which collaborates closely with Newcastle University’s institute of Neurosciences, and the other half at his home in Fenham with his family.

Retired for some years, all his work now is completely voluntary.

He said: “I knew I wanted to give something back to the city that made me a doctors, so I spoke to my colleagues in Newcastle, to patients and people in the city, and we raised the money.

“It was a wonderful thing for me, there’s a lot of good work going on there, and a lot of it is thanks to contributions from Newcastle people and resources I found here in Newcastle.”

Professor Robin Sengupta
Professor Robin Sengupta (Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

The OBE is the most recent in a string of awards for Prof Sengupta. In July, Newcastle University gave him an honorary doctorate of medicine, in recognition of all his work in the city.

He’s also received the Medal of Honour from the World Federation of Neurological Surgeons, consider to be the highest honour in the field.

And this latest award is not only for his work at the institute, and his neurological skill, but for his contribution to a positive relationship between the UK and India, something he says he is especially proud of.

He said: “That’s something that’s important to me, I like to think that when I’m here I’m an ambassador for India and when I’m in India I’m an ambassador for the UK.”

Receiving the royal honour gave Prof Sengupta an opportunity to look back on what is an extraordinary career.

“It was a long struggle — when I was younger I couldn’t have imagined getting so far, getting an OBE, but I always knew, good work is always appreciated by somebody,” he said.

“I know I have achieved a lot, I want to thank my family, who have sacrificed a lot to help me.”

And after all these achievements, nearing his eighties, is the hard-working professor getting ready to slow down?

“Absolutely not,” he said. “I want to drop dead while I’m working, that’s the only way I know,” he said.

“It’s so stimulating, so fulfilling, and so rewarding.”