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Sally Davies (doctor)

Sally Davies
Davies in 2014
Master of Trinity College, Cambridge
Assumed office
8 October 2019
Preceded bySir Gregory Winter
Chief Medical Officer for England
In office
1 June 2010 – 1 October 2019
Preceded bySir Liam Donaldson
Succeeded byChris Whitty
Personal details
Sally Claire Davies

(1949-11-24) 24 November 1949 (age 74)
Birmingham, England
Ralph Skilbeck
(m. 1972; div. 1982)
P. R. A. Vulliamy
(m. 1982; died 1982)
(m. 1989)
Alma mater
OccupationMaster, Trinity College Cambridge
ProfessionPhysician (Haematologist)
AwardsCameron Prize of the University of Edinburgh (2017)
Suffrage Science award (2011)

Dame Sally Claire Davies GCB DBE FRS FMedSci (born 24 November 1949) is a British physician. She was the Chief Medical Officer from 2010 to 2019 and Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Health from 2004 to 2016.[1][2] She worked as a clinician specialising in the treatment of diseases of the blood and bone marrow.[3] She is now Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, appointed on 8 February 2019, with effect from 8 October 2019.[3] She is one of the founders of the National Institute for Health and Care Research.[4][5]

Early life and education

Davies was born on 24 November 1949 in Birmingham, England. Her father John Gordon Davies was an Anglican priest and theologian, and her mother Emily Mary Tordoff[6] was a scientist: they both became academics at the University of Birmingham.[7] She failed her eleven-plus exam but was nevertheless able to study at the private Edgbaston High School for Girls in Birmingham, where she excelled on the viola.[8][9][10]

Davies studied medicine at Manchester Medical School at the University of Manchester where she graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MB ChB) degree in 1972 and later[when?] obtained a Master of Science (MSc) degree from the University of London.[citation needed]

Career and research

Davies described her early years in clinical practice as "brutalising" and had a four-year break from medicine as a "diplomat's wife" in Madrid, before returning to medical training at the end of the 1970s.[11]

She became a consultant haematologist in 1985 at the Central Middlesex Hospital in Brent – a relatively deprived part of northwest London – and became Professor of Haemoglobinopathies there in 1997, by which time the hospital had been incorporated into Imperial College London.

Davies is an expert in sickle cell disease: a blood disorder that mainly affects people of African heritage and causes painful 'crises' triggered by physical stress.[12]

As well as a number of academic works, Davies is the author of the book The Drugs Don't Work: A Global Threat (2013).[13]

Civil Service

Davies joined the Civil Service in 2004 to take up a research position in London and was soon promoted to Director-General of Research and Development at the Department of Health.[14][15][16] In 2006, she expanded the National Health Service (NHS) research base through the creation of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (whose Strategy Board she chaired) and went on to become the Chief Scientific Adviser of the Department of Health and Social Care.[11]

Chief Medical Officer

In June 2010 Davies was appointed interim Chief Medical Officer (United Kingdom) and was confirmed as the permanent holder of that position the following year – the first woman to hold the post.[8] The Chief Medical Officer has a rank equivalent to Permanent secretary – the highest in the Civil Service.[17]

The 'Chief' in the job title strictly refers to the incumbent's position as the most senior doctor within the Civil Service – the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Work and Pensions, for example, both employ doctors as civil servants, as of course does the Department of Health. Despite the name, the post of Chief Medical Officer has traditionally had no particular status within the medical profession as a whole – it has some parallels with the position of Surgeon General of the United States in the USA. However, with the huge expansion in the Department of Health's purview over the past two decades, the postholder has acquired substantial practical information influence over National Health Service policy.

Unusually for a British Chief Medical Officer, Davies does not have a background as a specialist in public health.[citation needed] Nevertheless, Davies has written and spoken extensively about the rise of antimicrobial resistance in medicine and animal husbandry, including carrying out work to raise its profile on the international scene.[18] Davies delegated authoring and editing her statutory annual reports to other doctors and healthcare practitioners, although she wrote an introduction to each and oversaw their compilation. She is particularly concerned about excessive alcohol consumption, especially by young women – who, she told the BBC in 2013, "we know can only take about half the alcohol that men can" and so are more prone to liver damage as a result.[19]

In July 2013, she was asked by the BBC whether she had ever favoured female doctors in order to counterbalance discrimination against them as a group. Davies replied: "I probably do positively discriminate because, as the men appoint in their own image, so do I appoint in my own image. I like having bright sparky women around, so I do understand how difficult it can be for the men to actually challenge the stereotypes and think differently".[11]

In her 2014 annual report, Davies said that the government needed to make tackling obesity a national priority. The report also recommended a national audit of ovarian cancer, and challenged "taboos" around the menopause and incontinence "to make sure embarrassment is never a barrier to better health."[20]

Davies speaks at a briefing for the Heads of Missions on the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance on 19 May 2016.

As of 2015, Davies was paid a salary of between £210,000 and £214,999 by the department, making her one of the 328 most highly paid people in the British public sector at that time.[21]

In January 2016, Davies reduced the recommended weekly alcohol limit for men to that for women, in new guidelines warning of the association between alcohol consumption and some forms of cancer. The guidance gave a new weekly limit of 14 units, while at the same time saying there was no safe level of alcohol consumption.[22] The Financial Times said the two messages were "inherently contradictory"[23] and Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, revealed that drinking the maximum allowance set by Davies would be no more dangerous than eating bacon sandwiches or watching films.[24]

Davies has recommended banning promotion and advertising of junk foods. She wants plain packaging for junk foods as for cigarettes, and VAT increases on junk foods high in fat, salt or sugar. Davies said, "I think the polling data is pretty clear. The public think it’s time that governments acted to protect their children. Overweight and obesity is because we are all in this flood of unhealthy food marketing and advertising. We need to close those floodgates".[25]

Master of Trinity College, Cambridge

On 8 February 2019, she was announced Master elect of Trinity College, Cambridge, in succession to Sir Gregory Winter.[26] She is the first woman to hold the appointment.[27] She was installed as the 39th Master of Trinity College during a ceremony on 8 October 2019.[28]

UK Special Envoy on Antimicrobial Resistance

In June 2019, Davies was appointed as the UK Special Envoy on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)[29] where she represents the UK government internationally. In her role, she also works across government on the "one health approach" and advises on the delivery of the 5-year action plan and the 20-year vision on AMR.[30]

In addition, Davies is a member of the United Nations Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance (IACG).[31] Since 2020, she has also been a member of the Global Leaders Group on Antimicrobial Resistance, co-chaired by Sheikh Hasina and Mia Mottley.[32]

Awards and honours

In February 2013, Davies was said to be the sixth “most powerful” woman in the United Kingdom, by the BBC Radio 4 programme Woman's Hour,.[33] In 2015 the Health Service Journal ranked her as the most influential woman in the English NHS and 14th most influential person.[34]

In the 2009 New Year Honours Davies was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for services to medicine.[35]

Davies was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2014[1] and a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (FMedSci) in 2002.[16] She was awarded the Cameron Prize of the University of Edinburgh in 2017.

In the 2020 New Year Honours, Davies became the second woman (and the first outside the Royal Family, as well as ignoring foreign politicians as honorary members) to be appointed Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB), for services to public health and research.[36][37] On 5 March 2020, in an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, she received the insignia from the Prince of Wales.[38]

Personal life

In 1974, Davies married Ralph Skilbeck, a diplomat;[7] they divorced in 1982. She remarried in 1982; her second husband died later that year from leukaemia.[39] In 1989 she married the Dutch haematologist Willem H. Ouwehand, a professor of haematology at the University of Cambridge, with whom she has two daughters.[40]


  1. ^ a b "Dame Sally Davies DBE FMedSci FRS". London: Royal Society. 2014. Archived from the original on 11 March 2016. One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from the website where:

    "All text published under the heading 'Biography' on Fellow profile pages is available under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.” – "Royal Society Terms, conditions and policies". Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 9 March 2016.((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)

  2. ^ "Professor Dame Sally Davies". 2014. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  3. ^ a b Rimmer, Abi (8 February 2019). "Sally Davies steps down as England's chief medical officer". BMJ. 364: l654. doi:10.1136/bmj.l654. ISSN 0959-8138. PMID 30737224. S2CID 73441579.
  4. ^ "Professor Dame Sally Davies". GOV.UK. Retrieved 9 April 2022.
  5. ^ "Ten Years of the NIHR: Achievements and Challenges for the Next Decade". 14 June 2017. Retrieved 9 April 2022.
  6. ^ "Dame Professor Sally Davies | Biographical summary". Retrieved 1 March 2022.
  7. ^ a b "Dame Professor Sally Davies". Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  8. ^ a b "Professor Dame Sally Davies". BBC. Retrieved 29 January 2014.
  9. ^ Taylor, Jeremy. "A Life in the Day of Professor Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer". The Sunday Times. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  10. ^ "BBC Radio 3 – Private Passions, Sally Davies". 16 March 2014. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  11. ^ a b c "BBC Radio 4 – Woman's Hour, Woman's Hour Power List – Professor Dame Sally Davies". Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  12. ^ "People of Today: Sally Claire Davies". Debretts. Retrieved 29 January 2014.
  13. ^ Davies, Professor Dame Sally (2013). The Drugs Don't Work. Penguin. ISBN 9780241969199. Retrieved 20 October 2019.
  14. ^ Ross, Matt. "Interview: Sally Davies". Civil Service World. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  15. ^ "[ARCHIVED CONTENT] UK Government Web Archive – The National Archives". Archived from the original on 4 January 2012. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  16. ^ a b "Fellow Professor Dame Sally Davies". London: Academy of Medical Sciences. 2002. Archived from the original on 2 August 2016. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  17. ^ "Professor Dame Sally Davies (Doctor of Science) — University of Leicester". University of Leicester. 1 May 2014. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  18. ^ "UK calls for international action on antimicrobial resistance". Department of Health. Retrieved 22 January 2015.
  19. ^ "BBC Radio 4 – Woman's Hour, Professor Dame Sally Davies". 23 July 2013. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  20. ^ "Chief Medical Officer calls for action on women's health". 11 December 2015. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  21. ^ "Senior officials 'high earners' salaries as at 30 September 2015". 17 December 2015. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  22. ^ Triggle, Nick (8 January 2016). "Alcohol limits cut to reduce health risks". BBC. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  23. ^ "Ambiguous health warnings – a danger with no safe limit". Financial Times. London. 9 January 2016. Retrieved 29 November 2016. (subscription required)
  24. ^ "New alcohol health advice branded 'scaremongering'". 8 January 2016. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  25. ^ Boseley, Sarah (10 October 2019). "Ban eating on public transport to tackle obesity, urges outgoing chief medic". The Guardian.
  26. ^ "Master of Trinity College, Cambridge: Professor Dame Sally Davies". GOV.UK. 8 February 2019. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  27. ^ "Doctor is 'college's first woman master'". BBC News. 8 February 2019. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  28. ^ "Dame Sally installed as Master". Trinity College. University of Cambridge. 8 October 2019. Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  29. ^ "Dame Sally Davies named UK Special Envoy on AMR". Retrieved 10 December 2020.
  30. ^ "Professor Dame Sally Davies". GOV.UK. Retrieved 10 December 2020.
  31. ^ Members of the UN Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance World Health Organization (WHO).
  32. ^ Global Leaders Group on Antimicrobial Resistance World Health Organization.
  33. ^ "Woman's Hour Power list". BBC Radio 4. February 2013.
  34. ^ "HSJ100 2015". Health Service Journal. 23 November 2015. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  35. ^ "No. 58929". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2008. p. 6.
  36. ^ "No. 62866". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 December 2019. p. N3.
  37. ^ "New Year Honours list 2020". GOV.UK. Retrieved 27 December 2019.
  38. ^ Clarence House (2020). "Professor Dame Sally Davies today became the first female non-royal to be made a Dame Grand Cross". London: Twitter. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
  39. ^ "Sally Davies, England's chief medical officer, 'ate hash cookies'". BBC. 18 August 2013. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  40. ^ Martynoga, Ben (29 May 2015). "Inside the home of Sally Davies, England's chief medical officer". Financial Times. Retrieved 20 June 2023.

 This article incorporates text available under the CC BY 4.0 license.

Government offices Preceded byLiam Donaldson Chief Medical Officer for Her Majesty's Government 2010 to 2019 Succeeded byChris Whitty Academic offices Preceded bySir Gregory Winter Master of Trinity College, Cambridge 2019 to present Incumbent
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Sally Davies (doctor)
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