‘2020 is a year of global opportunities’ – chief medical officer Chris Whitty looks ahead

Written by Civil Service World on 26 December 2019 in Feature
Feature

As 2020 approaches, senior figures from across government reflect on their highlights and challenges of 2019, look ahead to the next 12 months and share their favourite festive memories

What was your highlight of 2019?

For the first time we broke the barrier for one million research participants in the National Institute of Heath Research, run out of DHSC, as 1,015,487 people took part in health and social care research – a 21% increase on the previous year. The remarkable generosity of patients and the public in taking part in trials and studies is what will allow health to improve in the NHS and more widely in the future, as well as underpinning the vibrant UK life-sciences industry.

What has been the most significant change in your organisation this year?

Inevitably the challenge facing the whole civil service: to prepare for a Brexit deal, prepare for the possibility of a no-deal exit and ensure the normal running of the NHS and wider health system. Most of our drugs and many of our outstanding NHS and social care staff come from the EU, so it was right that so much resource was deployed on this. It was a great tribute to the professionalism both of those working on Brexit and those who took the strain in maintaining the rest of the system that they managed to keep this working so well.

What will be the biggest challenge of 2020 – and how are you preparing to meet it?

Domestically, winter always provides a challenge for the health and social care system. The biggest unknown is influenza, as in a bad flu year it can cause serious problems and kill thousands of vulnerable people. This year about 30 million people – nearly half the UK population – are being offered a free flu vaccine. If you are eligible, make sure you get the jab. It’s good for you and those around you.

2020 is also a year of global opportunities and a positive challenge is to build on the remarkable recent progress in stopping vaccine-preventable diseases. Gavi replenishment – financing for vaccines in the world’s poorest countries – led by the UK will help stimulate continued innovation and make the case for vaccines. The climate change conference COP26 in the UK will also be a very important event for all government departments – climate change remains the greatest long-term threat if it is not tackled.

Tell us a favourite festive memory from your youth...

Childhood Christmas in Africa, with no snow or holly and a plum pudding made of carrots and papaya. My main worry was that Father Christmas would not visit because we did not have a chimney!

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