Intended for healthcare professionals


Paul Cosford: public health supremo

BMJ 2021; 373 doi: (Published 19 April 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;373:n994

Linked Essay by Paul Cosford

The bench: reflections on an incurable diagnosis and control at the end of life

  1. John Illman
  1. London, UK
  1. john{at}

“I love my job,” said Paul Cosford in a post reflecting his highly honed communication skills, eloquent writing, and disarming honesty about living with an incurable cancer. What was it that he loved so much about being medical director of Public Health England? He explained, “There is nothing more fascinating than taking scientific advice, converting it into practical action, and encouraging the public to understand and support that action.”

Communication and wisdom

The words “communication” and “information” are often used interchangeably, but Cosford knew that they were not synonymous; and that information involves “giving out,” while communication involves “getting through.” Critically, Cosford “got through” to politicians as well as to the wider public.

Cosford had “a wisdom and emotional intelligence that is given to few,” according to Duncan Selbie, founding director of PHE and president of the International Association of National Public Health Institutes.

Selbie said, “Public health is …

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