Medicopolitical Digest

Public health conference

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.314.7097.1836 (Published 21 June 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:1836

There must be a national strategy for health

“The appointment of a minister for public health has been a triumph for our discipline,” Sir Donald Acheson, president of the BMA, said last week.

A former chief medical officer, Sir Donald was addressing the annual conference of public health medicine and community health. He would, he said, like to see the minister in the cabinet–the meeting agreed and endorsed the suggestion. He believed that a national strategy for health was now a permanent part of the structure and would be enhanced by the new government.

The meeting based its debate on the future of public health on a paper prepared by Dr Noel Olsen. In this he called for a new public health act, which would require public health impact assessment of all policy decisions and a royal commission which would produce regular reports to parliament on the public health impact of policies. He called for the act to provide for greater independence and freedom of speech for the chief medical officers (CMOs), specific legislative measures in line with the Labour party manifesto, a strengthening of the advocacy role of public health doctors, and for the appointment of a designated public health doctor to each unitary local authority.

Dr Olsen said that the CMOs were civil servants and had to look three ways–to the needs of the government, the public, and the scientific community. He admitted that there might be a down side to a royal commission: it might take a long time to report and there might be a lack of medical control.

Cmos have Professional Independence

Sir Donald Acheson assured the meeting that the CMOs had “complete professional independence in addressing any topical issue which was a threat to public health.” For instance, he had highlighted inequalities in health in his last two annual reports. He believed that as public health …

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