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NW public health chief quits.


THE director of public health in the North West last night quit the NHS to escape the growing constraints of the civil service.

Professor John Ashton last night said that, ironically, he was quitting his post to enable him to concentrate on public health.

He made the announcement after it was revealed there would be a reorganisation within the Department of Health.

Prof Ashton, who is from Woolton and is 59, said: "This is the fifth reorganisation that I have been part of and that's something that I have strong views about.

"I don't want to spend the next two-and-a-half years rebuilding teams. I will lose the impetus of what I am trying to do and there are certain things I want to have achieved in public health by the time I am 70. Public health has to play second fiddle to NHS issues such as waiting lists. I want to see if I can influence things from out side."

Prof Ashton was born and educated in Liverpool before going on to medical school in Newcastle and returned to his native city when he was appointed senior lecturer in public health in the Liverpool Medical School in the early 1980s.

In 1983 he was invited to develop a public health function in the former Mersey Regional Health Authority, which served Merseyside and Cheshire.

Ten years later he was appointed Regional Medical Officer and Regional Director of Public Health (RDPH) with the Mersey Regional Health Authority.

The following year he was appointed RDPH to the newly created North West Regional Health Authority.

When regional health authorities were abolished in 1996, Prof Ashton was appointed Director of Public Health at the Department of Health's new regional office in Warrington.

Prof Ashton no longer wants to be restrained by Government red tape.

He said: "Civil servants are constrained to a certain extent and I think the new organisation will be more bureaucratic. I would feel less comfortable articulating my views on things.

"Hopefully, when I am no longer a civil servant I can get involved in more controversial debates, for example, should there be a separate public health minister?

"I want to be able to keep the public informed about the real issues, including organisational arrangements within public health."

On his plans for the future, Prof Ashton said, among other things, he would be working with universities in the region.

He said: "I would like to see a public health system in place that is as good as the one that was dismantled in 1974.

"At the moment there is no ownership for it, I would like to see it owned by local authorities again. We should be looking at sexual health, alcohol and violence. Public health issues that would reduce the burden on the NHS. "

Prof Ashton added: "To paraphrase Tony Benn, I am leaving the Department of Health to spend more time on public health.

"I can look back on some great times and plenty of fun as well as real achievements. Part of that achievement is that, compared with most regions, we have strength in depth and diversity in breadth."


Professor John Ashton
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jun 22, 2006
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