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Sir Liam Donaldson steps down as England’s chief medical officer

Published on: 18/12/09

England’s chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson will step down in May 2010 after 12 years of service.

Details for plans about succession for the post will be announced in due course.

Sir Liam is the longest serving chief medical officer of modern times and only the 15th person to take up the independent role since it was established in 1855 as a response to Victorian England’s cholera epidemics.

Taking office in 1998 he oversaw many NHS and public health reforms including: the smoking ban for work and public places, the creation of the Health Protection Agency, the introduction of clinical governance in the NHS, the setting up of the National Patient Safety Agency and new legislation for research using embryonic cells.

Sir Liam originally envisaged leaving his post when he turned 60 in mid-2009, but agreed to stay on to supervise the response to the swine flu pandemic. If the pandemic should unexpectedly worsen he has said he will extend his tenure beyond May 2010.

In his resignation letter to cabinet secretary and head of the Civil Service Sir Gus O’Donnell, Sir Liam said: “I have been immensely privileged to serve in this post over the past nearly 12 years. I have been pleased to see many of my policy recommendations - stem cell research, smoke-free public places, reforms to the General Medical Council, changes to consent for organ and tissue retention and the creation of the Health Protection Agency - carried forward into legislation.

“I have been pleased too, that reforms I proposed to improve quality and safety of NHS care - clinical governance, a patient safety programme, procedures to identify, and prevent harm from, poor clinical practice - are fully embedded in the service and have been also adopted in many other parts of the world.”

Health Secretary Andy Burnham said: “Sir Liam has fulfilled his duties in this important public office with great distinction, wisdom and good humour. He has brought courage and foresight to the role of improving the nation's health. His bold and once-controversial proposal to turn public places smoke-free shows the difference he has made.

Initially trained as a surgeon in Birmingham, Sir Liam has worked across all sectors of healthcare: hospital medicine, general practice, public health, academic medicine and health service management.

In 1986, he was appointed regional medical officer and regional director of public health for the Northern Regional Health Authority.

There he spearheaded wide-ranging changes to address longstanding problems in an area acknowledged to have one of the poorest overall health records in Britain.

In 1994 he became regional director (i.e. chief executive) for the NHS Region of Northern and Yorkshire covering the health and health care needs of a population of seven million.

Paying tribute the Prime Minister said: “He has made an extraordinary contribution to the nation's health, from championing the ban on smoking in public places, to tackling the shortage of donated organs and most recently leading our response to the swine flu pandemic.

“His leadership and action in these areas and others will have saved many, many lives. I and the whole country are extremely grateful for all he has done and wish him all the best for the future.”

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