OBITUARY: Dr John Hinds, medical man and motorbike master

Dr Hinds in 2013
Dr Hinds in 2013

Dr John Hinds forged a name for himself by marrying together his passion for motorcycle racing and his vocation as a medical man.

The respected hospital consultant and multi-talented sportsman died aged 35 following a motorbike accident, prompting an outpouring of tributes.

The son of Josephine and Dermot Hinds, he was born in March 21, 1980, in Newtownards.

When asked what set him on his path to a medical career, his family said in a statement: “In Primary Two he drew a picture of a skeleton saying he knew his skull and ribs protected the important bits and his teacher suggested that one day perhaps, he would be a doctor.”

He had been educated firstly at St Patrick’s Primary School, Portaferry, and later St Patrick’s Grammar School in Downpatrick.

He went on to enter Queen’s University Belfast in 1998 to study a bachelors’ degree in Medicine, Surgery and Obstetrics.

During his first year, he lost his maternal grandfather to an aneurysm.

His family said that the compassion which the family were shown during this period helped foster within John a belief in “patient-centred care, dignity and respect”.

He had met his long-term partner Janet Acheson - herself a doctor - during his medical studies, and since the turn of the millennium his family said the pair had been “inseparable”.

After graduating, they moved to the Lakelands area of Craigavon, and then built their own house in Tandragee, close to Janet’s family home and John’s work in Craigavon Area Hospital.

He had been appointed as a consultant in 2012, and was lead clinician for the hospital’s intensive care unit and its recovery ward until his death.

Outside his studies and his work, he developed a number of sporting interests.

He studied a string of fighting and self-defence techniques from Japan and China, and in 2003 visited Japan to train in a traditional martial arts school.

John also took up sailing, qualifying as an instructor with the Royal Yachting Association, and representing both Northern Ireland and the whole island of Ireland in international contests centred around Mirror boats (a small kind of dinghy).

He had become involved in motorsports while still in his teens, and Friend Fred MacSorley said “many considered him to have had the skill, capabilities and talents of a professional rider”.

In 2005 he spent four days training in the Spanish town of Jerez with Woolsey Coulter - one of Northern Ireland’s best superbike riders - and returned to the country for further instruction in 2008.

He had been a member of the Motorcycle Union of Ireland’s (MCUI) medical team since 2002, one year before graduating from Queen’s.

During races, he would ride out behind the riders on a practice lap (when a lot of bike problems occur), then again during the first lap, and once more on a final lap after the race.

If any racers encountered difficulties, he would be on hand throughout the race to offer fast pre-hospital medical treatment.

He was also a vocal campaigner for an air ambulance service in Northern Ireland - the only part of the British Isles which does not have one (with the Republic having announced this month that it is setting up a permanent service).

He lectured on medical matters around the world, and wrote in the News Letter less than a month before his death that “I find it frustrating to return home to what is – essentially – a third world system”.

He said while the PSNI and UK and Irish coastguards have helicopters, there can be long delays in getting them to the scene and once ones arrives it is merely “a flying platform to carry a patient”.

“We need a dedicated aircraft with a physician and paramedic on board, that can give advanced care while transporting a stabilised patient to expert care,” he said.

On July 3, he had been taking part in trial laps at the Skerries 100 racecourse to the north of Dublin,before competitive races were due to start the next day.

It is understood he had just passed a place called Finnegan’s Corner on the two-mile-long course when he crashed on a relatively-wide sweeping bend.

He was taken to Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital where he died on July 4, attended by his family.

The cause of the crash is not known, and an investigation was launched by the sport’s governing body, Motor Cycling Ireland.

MCUI Ulster chairman Harris Healey said: “He’s a dreadful loss to us. I’d been with him many times at road race meetings, taking to him, and I saw what he was able to do at races. It was quite unbelievable, in terms of him being able to get to casualties.

“John was responsible for saving an awful lot of lives - a big number of lives. There’s no doubt.”

His funeral was held at St Patrick’s chapel on July 9, where he had been baptised as a baby.

He was buried in the adjoining graveyard.

He is survived by his parents, Janet Acheson, as well as his brothers Peter and Colin Hinds.