Retiring public health director praised for helping to save lives

The director for public health in Essex who led the fight against COVID-19 has retired, Essex County Council has announced.

Dr Mike Gogarty will be replaced by Dr Lucy Wightman, Director of Public Health for North and West Northamptonshire.

Dr Gogarty became the face of public health messaging in the fight against the pandemic. But he has also been outspoken in the challenges that Essex faces aside from COVID-19 – highlighting the gaps in life expectancy and deepening poverty levels in parts of the county.

His greatest achievement by his own admission has been his role in the creation of the Basildon Cardiothoracic Centre that provides specialist diagnostics and treatment for people with cardiovascular (heart) and respiratory diseases.

At a meeting of Essex County Council’s (ECC) full council today (Thursday, February 10) Councillor John Spence, who is cabinet member for health and adult social care, said Dr Gogarty’s important voice helped to save lives.

“Dr Gogarty became the calm but stark reassuring voice of COVID across this county,” said Cllr Spence.

“And I have no doubt that the way in which he handled himself caused us to accelerate our solutions and precautions and the work he did to influence the whole system in a combined response to COVID.

“And the work he did to improve the accelerations of vaccination, testing, track and trace all would have contributed to saving lives across the county.

“If we were only to judge Mike Gogarty in the last couple of years we would miss a great deal.”

Since starting work as a GP more than 40 years ago, Dr Gogarty has been working in public health roles since 1994. He became Director of Public Health for Essex in 2013.

Cllr Spence added: “Throughout that period he has been an innovator.

“All across the piece I see things he started to develop and grow, around physical activity and recently the recovering foundation around drug and alcohol misuse.

“It was interesting to note that he rates his greatest achievement as the creation of the cardiac unit at Basildon Hospital and we all know what a major facility that has become.

“Sometimes you will say it is a privilege to work with an officer, I could not say it with greater sincerity on this occasion.

“We have appointed an excellent successor but it will take a long time to completely fill the enormous shoes left by Mike Gogarty.”

Directors of Public Health are responsible for determining the overall vision and objectives for public health in a local area or in a defined area of public health, such as health protection.

Dr Wightman will become ECC’s new Director of Public Health from April.

She said: “In my six and a half years working in Northamptonshire, I’ve had amazing support from staff in public health, and many colleagues across the health and care system and wider public services.

“I would like to thank them for their diligence and professionalism, particularly during the past two years and the extreme difficulties presented by the pandemic.

“I will miss them all but I’m looking forward to a new challenge. I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone the best of luck for the future.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter