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Mr Jagger eyes up a future beyond the Royal Free

07 June, 2018 — By John Gulliver

Jonathan Jaggers and the nurses’ home in Hampstead

THE Queen’s eye surgeon, Jonathan Jagger, who has been a disting­uished consultant at the Royal Free Hospital for nearly 30 years has retired, slipping away barely noticed.

Jonathan Jagger – known affectionately among colleagues as JJ – said his goodbyes, and that was that! His colleagues, I gather, arranged for “nice things” – as Jonathan Jagger put it to me – to be said about him at a gathering of fellow consultants and junior doctors.

This kind of quiet disappearance is typical of a man who is a true English gentleman.

Jonathan Jagger, one of the top opthalmologists in Britain, in fact, has practised at the Free for since 1989 during most of which he was also the Queen’s eye surgeon. A man who carefully chooses his words, Jonathan Jagger keeps a respectful silence about his visits to the Palace. “Patient confidentiality, you know,” he said. But from colleagues, I hear, he performed a cataract operation on her recently.

His appointment alone is testimony to his standing in the profession. An influential inner-circle of physicians involved with the royal family are empowered by protocol and custom to appoint fellow practitioners who are clearly carefully chosen. The royals thought so highly of him that four years ago he was awarded a rare honour by being appointed as the Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order.

I actually got to know Jonathan Jagger several years ago when he performed a cataract operation on me at the Free. I talked to his colleagues and soon discovered what a modest, generous and, above all, superb practitioner he was.

There isn’t the least evidence that he is a firebrand who puts his career first and colleagues second. Apart from being known as a surgeon with “good hands” – the highest accolade consultants give deserving colleagues – he is an affable man who is known to help junior doctors, giving advice here, references there, and every form of encouragement. A man any medical team – and any hospital for that matter – would be only too glad to have among them.

Jonathan Jagger is dedicated to the ideals of the National Health Service but I detected signs he is aware of the wear and tear of the institution. Last week the Daily Mail ran a special supplement on Britain’s top eye surgeons – Jonathan Jagger, of course, was among them. Several of them promoted their services as private practitioners in the supplement.

Following his retirement from the Free, Jonathan Jagger will continue to see patients at his Harley Street practice. I am aware of the growing feeling of demoralisation among NHS staff and know, too, that far too many junior doctors can no longer take the long hours, the maddening pressure, the relatively poor pay, and are heading for the exit door.

But is it possible that there is also an exodus among the senior staff? He seems uncomfortable, for instance, with the decision by the Free to dispose of the nurses’ home in Hampstead. To him it seemed to be a matter of “selling off the family silver”!

“But what are you going to do about it?” I asked.

“Strange your saying that,” he said. “I met Michael Foot once [the former Labour leader] and he asked me the same question. I don’t know.”

He had faltered a bit, I knew he was thinking hard, for if there is one thing one can say about him it is that he is an honest, decent man who has practised his medical skills to the highest level, enjoying each piece of surgery as a challenge that has to be met and, perhaps, deep down knows that somehow he has to keep up the battle for an institution he has served for so many years.

I hope we have not seen the last of Jonathan Jagger.

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