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Who will be the next chief medical officer for England?

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.316.7146.1692 (Published 06 June 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:1692

Hilary Bower looks at which of the candidates is likely to succeed Kenneth Calman when he steps down later this year

On Tuesday a selection panel headed by the first civil service commissioner, Sir Michael Betts, will sit down to interview candidates for the post of England's chief medical officer. Over 40 applicants registered their interest by the deadline (26 March), and the final shortlist has been the subject of much speculation and not a little controversy.


Who do you think should be the next chief medical officer? What qualities will he or she need to do the job well? What do you think of the selection process?

Two weeks ago it became known that several of the key contenders—including John Ashton and Rod Griffiths, the regional public health directors of the North West and West Midlands, respectively—had been told at short notice not to turn up for interview. Threats of legal action have since been withdrawn, but only after some rapid conciliation by the permanent secretary in the department of health, Chris Kelly, and the NHS chief executive, Alan Langlands.

Stressful role

The incumbent, Sir Kenneth Calman, has described the role of the CMO as the “epicentre of stress,” but also, memorably, as “great fun.” To deal with both potential scenarios, the “person specification” says that whoever steps into his shoes must be a qualified medical practitioner with wide professional experience at senior level and a stature commensurate with the demands of the post.

The prospective CMO must also be able to command the confidence of ministers, the public, and the medical profession; to promote public health objectives throughout the government; and be “willing and able to challenge existing policy or practice.”

In addition, he or she has to be an effective communicator in the public media as well as within government, and an effective leader of medical staff—the person appointed will clearly earn their £110000 starting salary. Whichever way one looks …

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