Chief medical officers: the need for public health at the heart of government

Re: Chief medical officers: the need for public health at the heart of government

6 February 2013

Mike Daube correctly praises George Godber, one of the greatest English CMOs, for his active campaigning stance on tobacco. Indeed John Charles, his predecessor, showed just how dangerous a weak CMO can be to the public's health by his supine approach in the face of the emerging evidence on tobacco harm.

What Sir liam Donaldson did however was not just prod, push and embarrass the Government into action on health problems. He felt it necessary on the hotly contested issue of environmental tobacco smoke, where there was a firm Government position, to make public his advice to ministers which was in conflict with that Government position. Faced with the very real choice of resigning or taking this unique step and putting up with the consequences, Sir Liam took the decision to break new ground and, happily, both succeeded and survived.

The very first English CMO, John Simon, took a rather different approach to dissent on health policy matters and was the author of several anonymous letters to The Times criticising a Bill before Parliament. Simon, Godber and Donaldson, in their different ways, illustrate what is best about the role of Chief Medical Officer.

Competing interests: None declared

Gabriel J SCALLY, Professor

University of the West of England, Fenchay Campus, Bristol BS16 1QY

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