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Robin A. L. Agnew at the time of his retirement aged 73

Robin A. L. Agnew


Consultant Chest Physician Liverpool (b 1926 q 1950 MA, MD Dubl., FRCP Irel.), died in his sleep from a cerebrovascular haemorrhage on 19th February 2022

Robin was born in Dublin but grew up in Greystones and was educated at Wesley College and graduated from Trinity College Dublin with a BA in 1948 and subsequently MB BCh BAO in 1950 with honours in medicine. He worked as a house physician in St Steevens’ Hospital and witnessed the use of antibiotics in the treatment of TB, which at the time seemed like a miracle. In 1953 he left Ireland and travelled to Chichester via Liverpool, where he was interviewed in the board room of the Royal West Sussex Hospital. It was here, in somewhat intimidating circumstances, that a portrait of Sir John Forbes with a welcoming expression, caught his eye. He was appointed medical registrar. In 1956, he was accepted for a short service commission in The Royal Navy. This coincided with liability for national service and he joined the shore establishment of HMS Victory in Portsmouth. Following training he then served as Surgeon Lieutenant. Early in 1957, he was drafted urgently to serve on HMS Murray, one of two guard ships assigned to The Bay of Biscay to cover the Queen’s visit to Portugal The same year, he moved to the Royal Naval Hospital at Plymouth where he met his future wife, Ann’ who was a nursing sister in the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service. Promotion in 1959 to surgeon lieutenant-commander meant a move to HMS Ganges in Ipswich. In 1962 he became a senior registrar in the chest unit in the West Norwich Hospital. In 1964 he was elected President of the Irish Society of East Anglia. In Norwich he learnt the art of bronchoscopy to diagnose lung cancer before the link with tobacco was established. He was appointed consultant chest physician in Liverpool in 1970.

He worked at Fazakerly hospital Aintree, Newsham hospital and, until it closed in 1977, at the Central Chest Clinic. Here he set up a clinic for the diagnosis and treatment of patients with TB. He worked closely with TB Health visitors and the Public Health department. The clinic treated patients from a deprived area of Liverpool, a city still suffering from bombing by the Luftwaffe during the war. Poor living standards and overcrowding favoured the spread of TB. Later he helped set up the first combined clinic at Newsham and later Broad Green Hospitals Cardio Thoracic Centre, where patients with lung cancer were seen together by a physician and surgeon. TB continued to be a problem due to the development of drug resistance and HIV.

Robin retired from the NHS in 1990 and was appointed Emeritus Consultant Chest Physician in Liverpool and worked doing Medical Appeals Tribunals all over the North West where he saw patients appealing against their disability awards and also carried out medical examinations for recruits for The Gulf War.

He finally retired in 1999 and continued to author numerous publications. He wrote extensively on Medical History, in particular Irish and Naval history. He was asked to contribute to the Dictionary of National Biography on Sir James Clark and Sir John Forbes. He published two books on the life and naval career of Sir John Forbes and has also written on the life of the Victorian publisher George Smith and his connection with Charlotte Bronte. He was much loved and missed by his family. He leaves his wife, three daughters and six grandchildren and one great-grandchild on the way.