The Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) “is head of profession for the 50,000 healthcare scientists working in the NHS, embracing more than 50 separate scientific specialisms”.
He “can improve the integration of services, develop new structures for delivering care, give patients greater control of their own care and improve the NHS’s ability to undertake research and innovation and raising the game of health technology”, according to NHS England.
50,000 healthcare scientists is a lot of heathcare scientists, and the NHS’s ability to undertake innovation, plus the raising of the game of health technology, sound more important than ever in current circumstances.
The Chief Medical Officer, meanwhile, “is the country’s most senior medical adviser”, who is also “the head of the public health profession”.
He must “provide independent advice…in particular during public health emergencies; recommend policy changes to improve public health outcomes; and act as an interface between the government and medical researchers and clinical professionals”.
So it sounds as though there is plenty to keep him busy, too.
We raise this in the context of comments earlier today about Grant Shapps’ appearance on the Today Programme to put the case for the Government’s approach to the Coronavirus.
There were complaints that a politician was making it rather than Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Officer, or Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer. And that the politician in question was Shapps. This Twitter search and its finding will give you the flavour.
On the latter point, we’ve nothing much to say other than that Shapps is one of the few Cabinet members who Downing Street trusts to go out and make a case on a policy matter that isn’t his departmental specialism.
That ought to give pause for thought about whether we have the Cabinet we need for this crisis.
On the former one, we believe that people we elect cannot altogether cede the media, as the Coronavirus runs on, to people we don’t – however distinguished. It’s a statement of the obvious that Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and other Cabinet members can’t fold their tents and slink away.
The Government needs to put up a mix of the politicians we elect and the scientists who advise them. Which brings us back to Vallance and Whitty.
They must necessarily help to front the daily Downing Street press conferences which are now essential. Not every day, presumably. But often enough to take a big chunk out of their time.
Neither can reasonably be expected to take on the additional workload of fronting for Boris Johnson whenever Today or Newsnight or Sky News snap their fingers.
The Government needs to build a pool of scientists who can make the case for its policy. There are some around.
The worry among some Ministers is that too many cooks will spoil the messaging broth, and that some of these scientists will go off-piste or be trapped by Gotcha Journalism. Perhaps. But the Government is now in the business of trading off one evil against others.
So when Andy Burnham writes candidly and interestingly about how he made a mess of leading the Labour Government’s response to swine flu, he’s worth reading. As he is when he goes on to confess that only when Liam Donaldson, then Chief Medical Officer, took over was a sense of order restored.
But as we say Ministers can none the less not abandon the TV studios and airwaves during this much bigger crisis. Not unless they want to provoke howls of protest about their absence from some of the very same people now emitting these about their presence.