Dr Paddy Donaldson

Medical Officer of Health from a bygone era
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Paddy Donaldson was one of the last great Medical Officers of Health of a bygone era in the National Health Service. As MOH in Teesside in the 1960s, he pioneered health screening in the UK and in the 1970s established there the first health centres, which became a model for the rest of Britain.

He was born Raymond Joseph Donaldson in Newtownhamilton, Co Armagh, in 1920. Soon after qualifying in Medicine from Queen's University Belfast, in 1944 he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was posted to India and then Indo-China. During this wartime service, he met his future wife, June Paterson, a registered nurse who was a lieutenant in the Indian Army. By the time they were demobbed, both had developed a lasting love affair with curries and Indian takeaways. They indulged religiously in their Saturday curry right to the end of their days together, nearly 60 years later.

After the war, "Paddy" Donaldson returned to civilian life in the newly established NHS, as Assistant MOH in Middlesbrough. He served in a number of posts around Britain, including MOH in Rotherham from 1955 to 1968, but the peak of his career was spent as MOH in Teesside, 1968-74, which he described in his autobiography Off the Cuff (2000) as "the golden years". During his time there, he launched many successful new initiatives, on matters as diverse as headlice and coronary care. An able communicator, he was adept at dealing with both radio and television as a means of explaining new services to the public, although, when he introduced breast screening (a national first) in Rotherham, it caused a media storm. In 1972 he was appointed OBE for services to medicine.

The Seventies saw a sea change in NHS organisation, and one of Donaldson's first forays into publishing was the booklet The New Health Service in Britain: its organization outlined (1977). MOHs saw their autonomy significantly reduced, which prompted Donaldson to head south. From 1974 he headed the Centre for Extension Training in Community Medicine, a special unit based in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Now there was time to write. He edited the successful Parasites and Western Man (1979), and in 1982 co-authored Essential Community Medicine with his son Liam (now the Chief Medical Officer), a book which has become standard reading for all aspirants consultants in public health. He had time also for politics. In 1977 he was chair of the Royal Society for Health (RSH - now the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health) and he served on a number of occasions in the chair of the Social Security Advisory Committee, a social-policies quango.

In 1982 he became a consultant in community medicine at the Royal Free Hospital. At an age when most had retired to the potting shed, Donaldson was managing a busy unit and still engaged in pioneering work in Hampstead. He also ran a training consortium for aspiring public health doctors, based at St George's Hospital, Tooting.

When he eventually retired in 1992, the RSH became a second home. He was elected an Honorary Fellow and in 1996 was awarded the society's Gold Medal. He developed for them a certificated course in food hygiene, becoming the first to provide an interactive training module on CD-rom. Late in life, he had discovered the PC and the internet and embraced the technology with gusto.

Paddy Donaldson had a roguish wit and loved to play practical jokes or tricks on colleagues, friends and family. He was good company and unfailingly generous, enjoyed travelling and seeing the world. He would tinker for hours on his PC in pursuit of his hobby as an amateur genealogist, and traced his family history comprehensively back to the 1600s. This prompted him to travel to meet near and distant relatives.

He loved food and, as an expert in food hygiene, successfully avoided food poisoning from New York to Beijing, Sydney, Paris and Bombay.

Sammy Lee