The Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland was founded in 1920 by a group of leading surgeons of the day. The guiding spirit and inspiration behind the concept was Berkeley Moynihan, later Lord Moynihan of Leeds, who had been struck by the lack of cohesion among surgeons as early as 1909. He wrote that "surgeons in one town knew little or nothing of surgeons elsewhere. A surgeon from Manchester had never visited an operating theatre in Leeds, nor had ever been asked in consultation. As a consequence it was not infrequent to have to listen to disparagement of one surgeon by another; and jealousies, openly expressed, were too often heard." The founding objectives of the Association, therefore, were twofold - the advancement of the science and art of surgery and the promotion of friendship amongst surgeons; these objectives remain the same today.
The first meeting was held in London under the presidency of Sir John Bland-Sutton, the second in Edinburgh and the third in Leeds under the presidency of Moynihan himself. Since then, meetings have been held in many other centres in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. In recent years there have been additional autumn meetings held overseas and successful visits have been made to many countries around the world.
Initially, the Fellowship was limited to 250 consultants. Women were first admitted in 1936 and in 1953, an Associate Fellowship was introduced for a limited number of trainee surgeons. In 1970, fifty years after its foundation, the Fellowship was opened to all Consultant Surgeons and more recently, through links with the Association of Surgeons in Training, all Specialist Registrars in general surgery have been eligible for Affiliate Fellowship. In 1992, the title of Associate Fellowship was introduced for Non-Consultant Career Grade Surgeons and this membership is now expanding. The advent of MMC prompted the Association to revise its constitution to include a representative on its Council from each of the Affiliate and Associate Fellowships. The Association aims to achieve close to 100 per cent membership, to represent General Surgery convincingly within the Colleges and to Government.
The Association is the SAC defined Specialty Association for General Surgery, and its umbrella status for the general surgical specialty associations and societies is reflected in the structure of Council and its Committees. There is representation from The Association of Breast Surgery, The Association of Coloproctology of Great Britain and Ireland, The Association of Laparoscopic Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland, The Association of Upper Gastrointestinal Surgeons, The British Association of Endocrine and Thyroid Surgeons, The British Transplantation Society, The Vascular Society, The Society of Academic and Research Surgery as well as the Armed Forces. Additionally, Council includes representation of the Association of Surgeons in Training and the UEMS Monospecialist Committee in General Surgery.