Lives of the fellows

John Charles (Sir) Batten

b.11 March 1924 d.7 October 2013
KCVO(1987) MB BS Lond(1946) MRCP(1950) MD(1951) FRCP(1964)

Sir John Batten was a leading respiratory physician with a special interest in cystic fibrosis, and physician to HM the Queen. The son of Raymond Wallis Batten, a business executive and justice of the peace, and Kathleen Gladys Batten née Charles, he was sent to Mill Hill School and in 1946 qualified in medicine at the age of 21 from St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School. After house officer posts he joined the Royal Horse Guards and served for two years in Germany – becoming a surgeon captain. He returned to St George’s Hospital, Hyde Park Corner in 1950, and then the Brompton Hospital as a resident medical officer, passing his MRCP in 1950.

His early interest was in tuberculosis. He gained his MD in 1951 and in 1954 he travelled on a Dorothy Temple Cross research fellowship with his wife Anne to Cornell in New York, where he studied the effect of corticosteroids on tuberculosis in mice, and the disease in the Navajo people in Arizona.

He was a registrar and medical first assistant at St George’s Hospital, joining the staff in 1957, and a year later also the Brompton Hospital, first as assistant physician and then in 1959 as physician, until his retirement in 1986. He retired earlier from St George’s Hospital when it translocated to south west London. He was also physician to the King Edward VII hospitals in London and Midhurst.

In 1965 he was persuaded that a specialised clinic at the Brompton was needed for the growing number of children with cystic fibrosis who were surviving into adolescence and adulthood. Characterically he set about learning about the disease, and quickly published a review on the subject. Initially the clinics were small, weekly and with a paediatrician, Margaret Mearns, but they grew into the largest adult cystic fibrosis centre in the world. With his physiotherapists he developed a new forced expiratory technique for clearing the bronchial secretions, which would be performed daily by the patient without assistance. Later his team introduced inhaled antipseudomonal antibiotics as maintenance treatment, oral acetylcysteine for small bowel disease and bronchial artery embolisation for large haemoptyses. His pioneering work led to the setting up of similar treatment centres elsewhere, and to a revolution in the successful, long-term treatment of this chronic disease.

His energetic and enthusiastic ward rounds were legendary, and he charmed patients and nurses alike. He remained very much a general physician, and in 1970 was asked to join the Medical Household as a physician; four years later he became physician to the Queen and, in 1982, head of the Medical Household, succeeding Sir Richard Bayliss [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web]. His infectious charm served him well when treating members of the Royal Family. He was appointed KCVO in 1987.

For the Royal College of Physicians, he was an MRCP examiner, procensor and censor (1977 to 1978), becoming senior censor and academic vice president (1980 to 1981). He gave the Marc Daniels lecture in 1969 on experimental chemotherapy in tuberculosis, and the Croonian lecture on cystic fibrosis in 1983.

He served on the council of the British Heart Foundation and on the management and grants committee of the King Edward VII Hospital Fund. He was president of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust (from 1986 to 2003), the British Lung Foundation (from 1987 to 1995) and the Medical Protection Society (from 1988 to 1997). He became life vice president of the RNLI in 2000. He was a member of the board of governors of the Brompton Hospital (from 1966 to 1969). For many years he worked for Confederation Life and Price Waterhouse, and he became a trustee of the D’Oyly Carte Trust, following his grandfather.

He enjoyed music, sailing and horticulture, and he and his wife owned a cottage and a 23ft sailing boat in Cornwall. He was a founding friend of Kew Gardens, which was close to his London home.

In 1950 he married Anne Oriel, who was an early female medical graduate at St George’s, and who was a great support throughout his life. She predeceased him, and subsequently he lived on in their house in Kew, superbly looked after by a series of carers and nurses, where he died aged 89. They had two daughters, Elizabeth Anne and Clare Oriel, one of whom followed him into medicine, and a son, Mark Charles.

Sir Richard Thompson

[The Telegraph 23 October 2013 www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/10400058/Sir-John-Batten.html – accessed 25 August 2015; BMJ 2014 348 92 www.bmj.com/content/348/bmj.g92 – accessed 25 August 2015; Medical Protection Society www.medicalprotection.org/uk/casebook/casebook-january-2014/obituary-sir-john-batten – accessed 25 August 2015; Cystic Fibrosis Trust http://cysticfibrosis.org.uk/news/founder-of-royal-brompton-cystic-fibrosis-centre-dies-at-89 – accessed 26 August 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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