Lives of the fellows

Lindsey Willett Batten

b.16 November 1889 d.3 October 1981
MRCS LRCP(1914) MB Bchir Cantab(1921) MRCP(1923) MRCGP(1952) FRCP(1964) FRCGP(1973)

Lindsey Batten was educated at Blundell’s College and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. He was born in London, the son of Rayner D Batten MD and his wife Katherine, daughter of Eustace Condor, a congregational minister. He received his medical training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, qualifying in 1914, and held the posts of house physician, medical receiving officer, and clinical assistant in the children’s department. He then served as a captain in the RAMC from 1915 to 1919.

On demobilization he returned to Bart’s and to paediatrics, becoming chief assistant in the department for diseases of children, and was also appointed assistant physician to the East London Hospital for Children. These experiences contributed to his enduring concern for children and their parents, and helped to inspire the successful books The Single-handed Mother (1939) and Health for the Young (1942).

Lindsey rejected a consultant’s career in favour of general practice and became one of its most powerful advocates, at a time when its survival was seriously in question. His advocacy was effective, for he had a skill with language, a love of literature, and a capacity to quote from English, Latin or Greek, uncommon in doctors even in his day. His 1960 James Mackenzie lecture was so successful that the whole audience in the Great Hall at BMA House rose spontaneously from their seats to applaud, as they had never done for any of his predecessors.

His knowledge and skill was recognized in 1964 by his election to the fellowship of the College, an award not often given at that time to general practitioners. He became a founder member of the Royal College of General Practitioners and was a member of council from 1955 until his retirement in 1959. He was the first chairman of the library committee and provost of his faculty; he was elected a fellow in 1973.

Continual personal care of the patient was something Lindsey stressed. He was against the idea of group practice: ‘single, individual, personal responsibility for patients seems to me to lie at the very heart of practice, as I have known it and understood it. We doctors can, with great advantage, interchange opinions; but the patient, and responsibility for him, we cannot share. If we attempt it, he must be the loser’. These are uncompromising words. He added: ‘Between personal, continuing care and even the milder forms of collective responsibility, there is a fundamental, inescapable conflict’.

In 1919 he married Ellen Mary (Mollie), daughter of George Lindsay Turnbull, a general practitioner. They had two sons and three daughters. Lindsey had a great love of music and was a prominent member of the Hampstead Choral Society. On retirement, he went to live at Crockham Hill, Kent, where he and his wife cultivated a large garden with a zest remarkable for their years. Molly was a painter, and Lindsey continued to write and read widely. He also organized small groups of singers at his home, and there were madrigals and motets to compensate for leaving the Hampstead Choral Society which he had helped to run. He was a man of great charm and true culture.

JPH

[Brit.med.J., 1981, 283, 1181; Lancet, 1981, 2, 999; Times, 12 Oct 1981]

(Volume VII, page 27)

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