[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 September, 2004, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Experts Examined - the Chief Medical Officer
Image of Liam Donaldson
"Apart from being manager of Newcastle United, it probably is the perfect job."
In the first in a series where we talk to leading health experts, BBC News Online meets Professor Sir Liam Donaldson.

As Chief Medical Officer of England since 1999, it is Sir Liam's job to protect the public's health.

He is famed for tackling contentious issues like stem cell research and retaining the organs of dead patients.

At school, what did you want to be when you grew up?

For a long time I wanted to be a cowboy, wearing a sheriff's badge and a Davy Crockett hat.

Working Girl and Apocalypse Now
Those would be two sides of my personality really - the soppy side and the more involved side.
Every donkey on the beach was a golden palomino that I was riding around arresting rustlers.

Obviously, as I matured I realised that wouldn't be possible.

From reasonably early on I wanted to do something to help people, and medicine was a career that gave me that opportunity. I always really wanted to do it.

What first got you interested in what you do now?

I happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right qualifications.

Image of Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
He's an absolute genius, rivalling Shakespeare in the quality of his poetic ideas and imagery and language.

There is only one CMO in the country and you can't plan your career around one job, but I seemed to have the right skills and experience to do it when the job became vacant. So I applied for it.

Lots of people die from preventable disease, lots of people can't fulfil their full potential in life because their health is impaired or they have a chronic disease.

Somebody in my position has the opportunity to try and turn that situation around.

Apart from being manager of Newcastle United, it probably is the perfect job.

What are the major issues or challenges in your field of interest at the moment?

On the population health side, the challenges are to reduce the longstanding inequalities in health, the big gaps in health between people who are affluent and those who are poorer, living in more deprived parts of the country.

It's a gap that we just have to start to narrow.

Unsung heroes
People who have shown a degree of selflessness and kindness towards other people which has moved me.

Getting smoke-free public places would be the single measure that would save hundreds of thousands of lives over the next decade because it would turn non-smoking into the social norm that it should be.

On the patient care side, we know that there is still a lot to be done in making care genuinely patient-centred.

In the past the NHS, like a lot of other health-care systems, has been run for the convenience of those providing the services.

In a modern consumer society, even though we are publicly funded, we have got to behave as if patients are our customers.

What worries keep you awake at night?

I worry at the moment about the risks of some sort of terrorist atrocities and my responsibilities making sure the health service arrangements are in place if such an event should happen.

Antisocial behaviour of any kind
Rude, aggressive behaviour I just find depressing more than anything.

Also the risks of a major flu pandemic, possibly coming from a bird flu in the Far East that would be of a more lethal nature than the usual flus that we get, like we saw with Sars.

The impact of such an outbreak isn't just on health, but on people's levels of anxiety and even the economy of the world is affected by such things.

The thing that makes you lose sleep at night is really trying to expect the unexpected.

What do you regret?

I don't think I have any regrets.

Working too hard
I'm not very good at getting work-life balance and I think that annoys the people around me a bit.

The frustration of the job really is sometimes you feel the job is driving you rather than you driving the job in that everything is driven by the pressures on time the crises the emergencies.

What I would like more than anything is time to think and be a bit creative about the things that need to be done.

What would you have done if you hadn't gone in to this?

Image of an iPod
My iPod
To have thousands of songs on it and be able to just plug into it as I'm travelling and get a little lift from playing some music that I enjoy.

I'd have been interested in doing something more on the creative side. In the arts possibly - the film industry.

That's always interested me a great deal.

I have come up through my career working in large organisations whether it's a hospital, a university or now the government department and those organisations have hierarchies, constraints and rules and regulations.

Part of me would like to be a free spirit.

Born 1949
1972: Qualified as a doctor
1972 to mid 1980s: Posts in hospital medicine and surgery, general practice, public health and academic medicine
Mid-1980s to the mid-1990s: Director of Public Health for Regional Health Authorities covering the North East and Yorkshire regions of the NHS
Early 1990s: Combined the role of Director of Public Health with the post of Regional Director of one of the eight regional offices of the NHS Executive
1998: Appointed England's 15th chief medical officer
2002: Awarded knighthood in New Year Honours List in recognition of his achievements in health and health care

MMR jab defended
07 Feb 02 |  Health

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific