Intended for healthcare professionals


Aidan Halligan

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 20 May 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2687
  1. Matthew Limb, Croydon
  1. limb{at}

Inspirational medical leader who took on the plight of homeless people

It is said that Aidan Halligan used his gift as a communicator to become England’s deputy chief medical officer and the youngest doctor to secure the post. Forewarned that his interviewing panel was overrunning badly, he charitably set aside his presentation and improvised a tale that clearly won over his inquisitors. Johnny Wardle, a friend of Halligan who would establish the NHS Staff College with him and knew his narrative powers well, says, “Aidan had a story for every occasion, always with a message.” Except this one wasn’t true, say insiders, and shows how stories about Halligan, a highly charismatic, maverick figure, and stellar communicator, could sometimes take on a life of their own.

Aidan Halligan was an outspoken patient advocate who held high office in the NHS and set up groundbreaking projects for underserved homeless patients and deprived communities. He was the NHS’s first director of clinical governance and was widely regarded as an eloquent champion of high quality, safe care. A captivating leader and original thinker, he frequently challenged the medical establishment.

Halligan was made England’s first chief of safety at a hospital trust by Duncan Selbie, now head of Public Health England who both expected and wanted him to speak his mind. “Aidan had three rules for joining me—‘don’t tell me who to speak to, don’t tell me where to go, and don’t stop me doing anything’. We had five extraordinary years.”

Ian Kennedy, another friend and former chairman of the Healthcare Commission, says Halligan “spoke truth to power.” “He had 100 ideas before breakfast and because he was so inspiring and so good at generating enthusiasm everybody wanted a piece of him and he was unstinting in giving that.”

Born in Dublin, Halligan qualified …

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