Letter to Sir Liam Donaldson from Prime Minister Gordon Brown on his retirement from the role of Chief Medical Officer – May 2013

Not all of the materials held in Special Collections are old, and that is particularly true of archives. A good example of unique but fairly recent material can be found in the Sir Liam Donaldson Collection.

As well as being the present Newcastle University Chancellor, Sir Liam Donaldson was the 15th Chief Medical Officer for England from 1998 to 2010, an historic role dating back to 1858 as a means of affecting sanitary reforms in the wake of the early cholera epidemics. Their remit developed into being the Government’s top medical advisor on all elements of health policy as well as representing their profession and the public health at the very highest level as the Nation’s doctor.

In this letter, written on 17th December 2009,the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, expresses his sadness at Sir Liam’s decision to step down as Chief Medical Officer and touches on some of the landmark campaigns made possible through his leadership.

He thanks him first for remaining in post to help respond to the H1N1 “Swine Flu” influenza epidemic. Sir Liam had intended to step down in November 2009 but delayed his decision because of the expertise he could bring in responding to such a crisis. Sir Liam had warned as early as 2004 that such new strains of influenza were inevitable and put in place contingencies such as writing infectious disease strategies, establishing the Health Protection Agency to monitor and respond to such outbreaks and major public awareness campaigns. These steps helped to considerably minimise the impact of the severity of this disease in the UK.

The Prime Minister goes on to recognise Sir Liam’s input into NHS reform, with his personal campaigns enacting a quality and patient safety ethos in the organisation; something Sir Liam continued to do on a Global scale as founding Chair of the World Alliance for Patient Safety at the World Health Organization from 2004 onwards.

Gordon Brown finishes by touching on Sir Liam’s efforts to increase the take up of organ donation and his most celebrated achievement in leading on the smoking ban in public places on 1st July 2007: a public health milestone. He tirelessly targeted such modern, self-made epidemics in his influential annual reports which led to action through policy and legislation. Similar efforts based on his concerns over the consumption of alcohol and calls for minimum pricing in 2009 were not greeted as favourably, but speak for the independence of the role of Chief Medical Officer, acting for the greater good rather than political gain.
The full catalogue for the Donaldson (Sir Liam)Archive is hosted on the Archives Hub. It includes archival material on this significant public health reformer’s many campaigns as Chief Medical Officer, his early roots in the North East, and on-going attempts to tackle the world’s most devastating health issues.

The archive has also been selectively digitised and these images can be searched and browsed via CollectionsCaptured.

You can also view an online version of the complementary exhibition, Root and Branch: Public health under the Nation’s doctors, on the Special Collections web pages