Archive Collection LD - Donaldson (Sir Liam) Archive

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Reference code



Donaldson (Sir Liam) Archive


  • 1959 - 2010 (Creation)

Level of description

Archive Collection

Extent and medium

116 Boxes (20 Linear Metres)

Context area

Name of creator

(1949 -)

Biographical history

Professor Sir Liam Joseph Donaldson was the 15th Chief Medical Officer for England from 1998 to 2010, responsible as the Nation's Doctor for advising on and shaping the United Kingdom's approach to health and health care through reforming policy, legislation and public and professional attitudes.

Sir Liam was born on 3 May 1949 in Teesside. He was raised in Rotherham where his father Raymond Donaldson was Medical Officer for Health, before returning to Teesside to take up a similar role there.

Throughout his early career, Sir Liam worked across the sector in all areas of health care; hospital medicine, general practice, public health, academic medicine and health service management.

He studied as a Medical Undergraduate at the University of Bristol, initially choosing a career in surgery and gaining a Masters degree from the University of Birmingham in Anatomy. He spent 2 years as a Surgical Registrar at a large group of teaching hospitals in Birmingham, where he also held a teaching and research post; lecturing in Anatomy. Sir Liam moved to the new Medical School at the University of Leicester where he both enhanced his undergraduate and postgraduate teaching skills and graduated in 1982 with a Doctorate in Medicine.

During this period, Sir Liam also changed his speciality to Public Health, becoming a Lecturer in Community Medicine then a Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology at the University of Leicester while also practising as a General Practitioner. Later, in 1989, he became Professor of Applied Epidemiology at Newcastle University, where he still holds an honorary Chair as well as a visiting Chair at the University of Leicester.

In 1986, Sir Liam progressed to Public Health Management with a move back to the North East, where he was appointed Regional Medical Officer to the Northern Regional Health Authority, advising in matters relating to the health of the community and the provision, development and evaluation of health services. He held the post (whose title changed to Regional Director of Public Health) until 1992, when he became Regional General Manager and Director of Public Health to the region. He was recognised for his strong leadership and reforms to the quality of care provided to patients through a common quality ethos, as well as reduction of waiting lists, responding effectively to crises and significant contributions to National Policy.

In 1994, when the Northern and Yorkshire Regional Health Authorities were merged, he was appointed to the post of Regional General Manager and Director of Public Health of this new region, where he was responsible for the health needs of some 7 million people. In 1996, when the Northern and Yorkshire Regional Health Authority was abolished and replaced by a Regional Office, he was appointed Regional Director of the NHS Executive: Northern and Yorkshire and also took the role of Regional Director of Public Health. During this period of major reorganisation of management structure in the National Health Service, Sir Liam introduced a common performance culture across two very different health regions covering 51 NHS Trusts and 13 Health Authorities.

In 1998, Sir Liam succeeded Sir Kenneth Calman in the significant and historic role of Chief Medical Officer for England; a post established in 1855 to make public health reform a National priority. Here, he had to act as the UK Government's independent principal medical adviser and the professional head of all medical staff in England, as well as serving the public by championing the need for action on the major health problems of the day. He did so through landmark reformative campaigns which aimed to address prevalent health issues, implement his own improvement agendas and react to high profile crises. Towards these ends, Sir Liam authored a series of ground-breaking reports analysing existing problem, demanding consolidated action and setting out the means by which to achieve transformation. These campaigns led to legislative reform, awareness campaigns and transformation of services and the medical profession.

Among these campaigns, backed by these influential special reports, were;

Addressing and reforming poor clinical performance ( Supporting Doctors, Protecting Patients through greater assessment and, subsequently, his new concept of Clinical Governance; an internationally recognised model;

Legislative reform to organ and tissue retention ( The Removal, Retention and Use of Human Organs and Tissue from Post-Mortem Examination ) and regulated use of stem cells for research ( Stem Cell Research: Medical Progress with Responsibility );

A comprehensive review into medical regulation and revalidation ( Good Doctors, Safer Patients leading to legislative and systematic reforms;

Greater emphasis on patient safety ( An Organisation with a Memory resulting in the establishment of the National Patient Safety Agency and placing patient safety in the context of the UK Government's quality programmes;

Empowering patient self management of chronic diseases ( The Expert Patient: A New Approach to Chronic Disease Management for the 21st Century through integration into NHS services;

Reform of legal challenges against clinical negligence ( Making Amends leading to new legislation;

A comprehensive infectious disease and health protection strategy ( Getting Ahead of the Curve leading to the establishment of the Health Protection Agency, modernisation of Public Health legislation and specific action plans to combat tuberculosis, West Nile fever, Healthcare Associated Infection and pandemic influenza;

A new system for training doctors in their early years, post qualification ( Unfinished Business: Proposals for Reform of the Senior House Officer Grade ;

And major reforms to the NHS ( A Commitment to Quality, A Quest for Excellence and Public Health Functions ( The Report of the Chief Medical Officer's Project to Strengthen the Public Health Function .

Sir Liam also significantly affected policy by championing health issues through his Annual Reports On the State of the Public Health. Among the recurrent issues were patient safety, action on the nation's obesity problem and the need for tobacco control and smoke-free public places. This coverage led to significant media coverage and debate, placing them in the public consciousness, as well as action through Government policy and legislation. Perhaps most significantly, his work led directly to the banning of smoking in public places and workplaces through legislation passed on 1 July 2007; a public health landmark.

Sir Liam was also called upon to react to high profile issues of public concern on behalf of the Government. These included the storage of children's organs at Alder Hey Children's Hospital, the clinical audit of the practice of Dr Harold Shipman, and the inquiry into the children's heart surgery service at Bristol Royal Infirmary. His reponses led to far reaching reforms to ensure lessons were learnt and safeguards put in place.

Sir Liam informed the Government of his intention to step down from the role of Chief Medical Officer in November 2009, but delayed his departure until May 2010 in order to lead the response to the H1N1 Swine Flu influenza epidemic. He held the post for 13 years.

As a leading advocate for patient safety, Sir Liam also worked to promote this imperative internationally among victims and their families, professionals and policy makers worldwide. This work led to the establishment of the World Health Organization (WHO) World Alliance for Patient Safety, which Sir Liam has chaired since its launch in 2004, engaging over 140 countries as an ongoing global concern. He is also regarded as an international leader in health and health care, particularly in the fields of public health and health care quality, representing the United Kingdom in the World Health Organization.

Sir Liam was recognised for his professional contributions to the United Kingdom and achievements in health and health care with a Knighthood in 2002. He also holds 14 honorary doctorates from British Universities; eight fellowships from medical royal colleges, the Gold Medal of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and was the Queen's Honorary Physician between 1996 and 1999.

Sir Liam is the co-author of a standard textbook of public health ( Donaldsons' Essential Public Health ), a History of the Chief Medical Officer's for England ( The Nation's Doctor ) and over 170 papers in peer review journals.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Deposited on loan from Professor Sir Liam Donaldson in 2013.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Consists of published and unpublished material covering Sir Liam's professional career and achievements as;

Regional Medical Officer, Regional General Manager and Regional Director of Public Health for the Northern Regional Health Authority (1986 - 1994);

Regional General Manager, Regional Director and Regional Director of Public Health for the Northern and Yorkshire Regional Health Authority and NHS Executive: Northern and Yorkshire (1994 -1998);

Chief Medical Officer for England, Department of Health (1998 - 2010).

The majority of material relates to his time as Chief Medical Officer, covering his major health and health care campaigns, including published reports and contextual material related to these reports.

Also includes photographs, papers, correspondence and other material relating to Sir Liam's personal life, awards and honours.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


No further accruals to this collection are expected.

System of arrangement

Material has been arranged mainly chronologically according to Sir Liam's professional career with personal papers last. Material relating to his time as Chief Medical Officer has been arranged contextually according to specific health and health care campaigns where possible.

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Open with some restrictions (researcher interview may be required)

Conditions governing reproduction

UK copyright rules apply

Material produced by the UK Government where Crown Copyright applies can be reproduced under the Open Government license provided the source is acknowledged.

You do not use the Information in a way that suggests any official status or that the Information Provider endorses you or your use of the Information

You do not mislead others or misrepresent the Information or its source

Your use of the Information does not breach the Data Protection Act 1998 or the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

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Finding aids

Allied materials area

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Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

For other archival sources for past Chief Medical Officers for England, see also;

Sir William Jameson Collection (Chief Medical Officer for England, 1940 - 1950) held at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Reference Number GB 0809 Jameson.

Sir George Godber Collection (Chief Medical Officer for England, 1960 - 1973) held at the Wellcome Library, Reference Number GC/201.

Sir Donald Acheson Collection (Chief Medical Officer for England, 1983 - 1991) held at the University of Southampton Special Collections, Reference Number MS386.

Related descriptions

Publication note

A major study of the post of Chief Medical Officer for England is covered in The Nation's Doctor: The Role of the Chief Medical Officer 1855-1998, by Sally Sheard and Liam J. Donaldson (Radcliffe Publishing Ltd, 2005).

Sir Liam's standard textbook of public health: Donaldsons' Essential Public Health, by Liam J. Donaldson and Gabriel Scally (Radcliffe Publishing Ltd, 2009).

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Archivist's note

This catalogue created by Ian Johnson in 2013.

Accession area