Intended for healthcare professionals


John Wyn Owen: former director of the NHS in Wales, who introduced the concept of “health gain”

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: (Published 28 February 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m794
  1. John Illman
  1. London, UK
  1. john{at}

John Wyn Owen approached his death in the same way as his life as director of the NHS in Wales; director general of the New South Wales Health Department in Australia; and secretary of the Nuffield Trust in London.

In his final weeks he had a medical appointment; the consultant asked if he had any questions. He replied: “What questions should I have?” He asked this question repeatedly in his professional life. A highly skilled listener and a visionary leader, he was acclaimed for leading from the back, like the shepherd quoted by Nelson Mandela, who stays behind his flock, “letting the more nimble go ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realising that they are being directed from behind.”

Global health is a local matter

Owen combined a talent for team building with a passion for public service, reflecting his socialist values and Welsh chapel upbringing. He learnt and spoke Welsh with great …

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