Sir Liam Donaldson to retire

England’s Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, has decided to step down in May 2010 after 12 years of service.

Appointed in 1998, Sir Liam is the longest-serving Chief Medical Officer of modern times.

During his time in the role, he has been at the forefront of reforms to the NHS and major improvements to the country’s public health. His work and policy recommendations in the role led to many reforms including smoke-free public places, the creation of the Health Protection Agency and the introduction of clinical governance in the NHS.

Most recently, Sir Liam has been central to the UK’s response to the swine flu pandemic. As chair of the Pandemic Influenza Programme Board, he oversaw the development of the National Flu Pandemic Framework in 2007.

Although he originally planned to leave his post when he turned 60 in mid-2009, Sir Liam agreed to stay in his role as Chief Medical Officer to supervise the response to the swine flu pandemic.

Since taking up the post of Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam has also been involved in responding to high-profile issues of public concern, including the retention and storage of children’s organs at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and the clinical audit of the practice of Dr Harold Shipman.

Health Secretary Andy Burnham said: “Sir Liam has fulfilled his duties in this important public office with great distinction, wisdom and good humour. He has brought courage and foresight to the role of improving the nation’s health. His bold and once-controversial proposal to turn public places smoke-free shows the difference he has made.

“I am sure I speak for all my predecessors in saying it has been a privilege to work with him. I am personally indebted to him for his clear and calm advice on dealing with the swine flu pandemic. His leadership and reassurance have taken the NHS and the country through a challenging year, and his preparations for this moment over many years put us in the best position to deal with it.

“Liam is one of those rare people who combines great intellect with warmth and humanity. He will, I am sure, go down as one of the great CMOs.”