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Chief medical officer to retire

Fergus Walsh | 17:06 UK time, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The UK government's principal medical advisor, Sir Liam Donaldson is to step down next May. He has been chief medical officer for England since 1998 and the main architect of the government's policy on dealing with swine flu.

Sir Liam DonaldsonAfter the emergence of the avian flu in south-east Asia six years ago he helped bring about an awareness in Whitehall of the potential threat to public health from flu pandemics. This eventually led to the stockpiling of antiviral drugs and detailed planning being put in place across government departments and the NHS.

Since the emergence of H1N1 swine flu he has spearheaded the government's strategy, carrying out weekly briefings for journalists on the pandemic and giving unprecedented access to public health data charting the spread of the infection.

The 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."

The Department of Health said that Sir Liam originally planned to leave his post when he turned 60 in mid-2009 but agreed to stay on to supervise the response to the swine flu pandemic. He has told ministers that if the pandemic should suddenly worsen, he would be prepared to extend his tenure beyond May 2010.

As well as charting policy on flu, Sir Liam also played a key role in shaping policy in many other areas of medical research and public health, including stem cell research, the introduction of smoke-free public and work places and organ donation.

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