Public health heroes needed at the heart of government says UWE Bristol expert

Issue date: 18 February 2013

UWE Clear

In a heartfelt article published recently in the British Medical Journal, Professor Gabriel Scally from UWE Bristol highlights the vital need for 'an articulate and authoritative voice that can tell elected politicians the potential health implications of their actions and inactions.'

Professor Scally is the Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Healthy Urban Environments, based at the University of the West of England. He joined UWE Bristol in 2011 after a long career working as Regional Director of Public Health in England.

He argues that the global economic crisis has created a much greater need for powerful advocates and cites countries from around the world who have designated posts to provide much needed medical advice on current and potential hazards to public health. The posts vary in different countries but Professor Scally's article highlights how time has shown that such expertise can provide much needed influence.

Professor Scally says, “Comparisons between the two most prominent posts globally, those of Surgeon General in the US and Chief Medical Officer (CMO) in the UK, show the hazards and the advantages of having a medical voice so close to the heart of government.”

The article gives historic examples of Surgeon Generals in the US either being sacked for views conflicting with government or being instructed not to prepare reports critical to areas of global concern. “Richard Carmona, who served President George W Bush, experienced the most extreme professional repression; he reported that he was told what to say and what not to say, that reports were censored and suppressed and that he was told not to report on mental health, emergency preparedness and global health.

“In a more positive light in the UK the 15th CMO broke new ground as a senior civil servant by making public his disagreement with the government on the subject of control of environmental tobacco smoke. He combined this independence of view with helping the government develop important policies on health and healthcare.

“The role of CMO at national level, as an empowered advocate of population health, should be promoted by the World Health Organization as an essential component of good health governance for the 21st century.

“Towards the end of Bertolt Brecht's play Life of Galileo, Galileo says: “Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.” The state of global health is such as to indicate clearly that we are in desperate need of passionate public health heroes at the heart of national governments around the world.”

Read full article here.

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