I’ll become health crusader, reveals chief doctor

Sir Harry Burns. Picture: Jayne Wright
Sir Harry Burns. Picture: Jayne Wright
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SIR Harry Burns is to concentrate on tackling health inequalities when he stands down as Scotland’s chief medical officer later this year.

Sir Harry will take up a new research post as Professor of Global Public Health at Strathclyde University in April after he leaves the Scottish Government post he has held for more than eight years.

In an interview with The Scotsman, the 62-year-old said he now wanted to focus on taking action to reduce health gaps between the rich and poor.

“I have found myself more and more involved in health inequalities and trying to understand how societies create health,” he said.

“I felt I was getting more into the research area and therefore it felt like time to get more actively involved in research.

“The kind of research I want to do is about change. It is not about research continuing to define the problem and refine it. It is time to do something about it and go out there and try things.”

During his time as CMO, Sir Harry, knighted in 2011, has highlighted his concerns about the health gap between rich and poor and importance of the first years of a child’s life, leading to initiatives such as the Early Years Collaborative.

He said he now wanted to “focus more on doing things rather than influencing policy”.

Sir Harry’s new role will also see him work closely with the International Prevention Research Institute in Lyon, France.

Professor Sir Jim McDonald, principal of Strathclyde University, said: “We are absolutely delighted that Sir Harry has chosen to continue his vital work in public health here at Strathclyde.”

Looking back on his time as CMO, Sir Harry said there were still issues needing addressed. “I am not happy with the way we train young doctors now,” he said. “As I look at young people training in medicine now, I think their opportunity to do the kind of things that I have done, which has been a very varied career, I think those opportunities are harder to deliver now.

“How they are trained now is very rigid. What I did in moving from surgery to public health would be really difficult now.

“There’s an over-emphasis on ticking boxes, as opposed to encouragement of innovation and new ways of looking at your career.”

Health Secretary Alex Neil said: “Over the past eight years, Sir Harry has provided leadership in a range of areas.

“In particular, Sir Harry has brought a renewed focus to the issue of health inequalities within Scotland, and I am delighted his new role will enable him to continue his focus in this area.”

A life making Scots feel better

Sir Harry Burns started his medical career after graduating from Glasgow University in medicine in 1974.

He gained a Masters degree in public health, then worked first as a senior registrar in vascular surgery and kidney transplantation before becoming a consultant surgeon.

He moved into the field of public health to work as medical director at Glasgow Royal Infirmary and later joined Greater Glasgow NHS board as deputy director of planning and contracts, and then as director of public health.

Between 1998 and 2001 he was seconded to the Scottish Executive health department as lead cancer clinician and chairman of the Scottish Cancer Group.

In 2005 the father-of-six, originally from Barrhead, East Renfrewshire, took up the post of Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer.