Liam Donaldson

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Professor Liam Donaldson was the UK government's chief medical officer from 1998 until 2010.

In 2002, Donaldson received a knighthood in recognition of his achievements in health and health care.

Revolving Door

In August 2010 he was appointed as a Professor of Health Policy at Imperial College, ACOBA approved the role "subject to the condition that, for 12 months from his last day of service, he should not become personally involved in lobbying UK Government Ministers or Crown servants, including Special Advisers, on behalf of his new employer". In September 2010, he also notified ACOBA of his intention to set up his own independent health and medical consultancy, which was "approved subject to the normal automatic 3-month waiting period and the condition that, for 12 months from his last day of service, he should not become personally involved in lobbying UK Government Ministers or Crown servants, including Special Advisers, on behalf of his consultancy form of his clients."[1]

In 2011, one year after leaving his government post Donaldson joined lobbying firm APCO Worldwide as a member of its international advisory council. In this role he provides strategic advice for clients such as the British Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer. Labour MP Paul Flynn told PRWeek:

‘This looks like another worrying example of the revolving door from independent public service to the world of commerce. There is widespread concern that former ministers, civil servants and generals swiftly metamorphose from high office into the paid servants of business, possibly after hawking around their contacts book and insider knowledge.'
The greatest possible danger is that the holders of high office may be tempted to take decisions that could be influenced by the chance of retirement rewards. When crucial decisions are made, they should be judged on the public good and not on the possibility of a retirement hacienda in Spain.’

APCO UK managing director Edward Walsh insisted that Donaldson would not be trading on his contacts developed in government.He said:

‘Someone such as Sir Liam will tell us what works and what doesn’t. It’s a sounding board for strategy. It’s not about access. It’s about understanding the stakeholder environment and really looking at the client’s objective and making sure we help in achieving it.’


Donaldson and GM

After Dr Arpad Pusztai went public with his doubts about the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods, followed by the publication in 1999 of the British Medical Association report calling for an indefinite moratorium on GM crops, no less than four reports on biotechnology were rushed out in the space of just two days. All trumpeted the safety of GM foods and crops, and all condemned Pusztai's research, which suggested the opposite. The first report was by the government's chief scientific advisor, Robert May, and its chief medical advisor, Prof Liam Donaldson (the May/Donaldson report). The others were from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee; the Royal Society, of which may was then a leading Fellow; and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics report.

These were four reports containing one theme and this conveniently timed package enabled Blair's then 'Cabinet Enforcer', Dr Jack Cunningham, to announce that Dr Pusztai's work had been 'comprehensively discredited.' Sir Robert May added that Dr Pusztai was guilty of 'violating every canon of scientific rectitude' by speaking publicly about his results before the paper had been peer reviewed and published.

Dr Pusztai has commented:

Can you believe that four major reports could come out, all condemning me, within two days? That is stretching belief. It's clear that there was a concerted effort to discredit me... In 1956, when I was living in Hungary, I got a Ford Foundation Scholarship and they said I could go wherever I wanted. I chose England because I thought the British were fair, and that they would tolerate even an oddball like me. But then I found out about these machinations and duplicity... I made my 150-second testimony on TV's World in Action because I had facts that indicated to me there were serious problems with transgenic food. It can take two to three years to get science papers published and these foods were already on the shelves without rigorous biological testing similar to that of our GM potato work. I did indicate my concern and it cost me my job.[3]

For the full story of Dr Pusztai's research and the attempts to discredit him and his findings, see Arpad Pusztai.


  1. Twelfth Report 2010-2011Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, accessed 9 December 2014
  2. David Singleton,Liam Donaldson takes up role with lobbying firm APCO,, 27 July 2011, accessed 1 August 2010
  3. Dr Arpad Pusztai, in "Why I cannot remain silent", interview with GM-Free magazine, Vol. 1, No. 3, August/September 1999, accessed February 2009.