Chief medical officer retirement sparks Department of Health reshuffle

By Stephen Easton

July 13, 2016

Australia’s chief medical officer Chris Baggoley will retire at the end of this week, and the role will taken up by Austin Health chief executive Brendan Murphy on October 4.

Tony Hobbs has been promoted to deputy chief medical officer and will act in the role until then. Hobbs was previously the principal medical adviser to the Department of Health’s strategic policy and innovation division.

The CMO is the principal adviser on medical matters to the minister and the department, as well as the head of the Office for Health Protection. Baggoley came to the role after heading up the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care and acting as CMO for the South Australian Department of Health, with a background in emergency medicine.

Murphy (pictured) is a professorial fellow of University of Melbourne and also holds fellowships with the Royal Australian College of Physicians and Australian Institute of Company Directors. He has previously held positions as CMO and director of nephrology (kidney health) at St Vincent’s Health.

Brendan Murphy
Brendan Murphy

He sits on the boards of the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute and the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, while acting as independent chair of Health Services Innovation Tasmania.

Department of Health secretary Martin Bowles announced the changeover in a statement released overnight, explaining that Murphy would bring to the role a combination of clinical expertise and high-level experience in stakeholder management, strategic direction-setting and policy advice.

Bowles said the outgoing CMO, Baggoley, had been “an influential figure in the nation’s response to numerous challenges and threats to our health” and provided insight into the CMO’s vital role:

“In particular, he has been outstanding in progressing the nation’s response to antimicrobial resistance, vaccine preventable disease, the risk of new communicable diseases, and improved screening and early diagnosis of non-communicable diseases such as cancer.

“In addition to leading Australia’s response to the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, which was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization (WHO) in August 2014, Professor Baggoley made a significant contribution to the international response as a member of the WHO International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Ebola which provided advice throughout 2014-15 to the WHO Director General.

“Over the past three years of ongoing international concern with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS) Professor Baggoley has not only supervised Australia’s monitoring of MERS but has also led the international effort to minimise the threat from this disease as chair of the WHO International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on MERS from 2013 to the present.

“Most recently, he has supervised Australia’s response to, and preparedness for, Zika virus.”

Bowles also made note of some of the most important pieces of legislation and co-operative frameworks that have been injected with a healthy dose of Baggoley’s expert medical advice.

These include Australia’s first National Framework for Communicable Disease Control and the National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy, released in June 2015, which aims to recognise the links between the health of humans, animals and entire ecosystems.

Baggoley was also instrumental in development of the Biosecurity Act 2015, which replaced the quarantine law first passed in 1908 with one that took more account of modern technology and emerging challenges.

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