Obituary: Sir John Reid
Friday 15 July 1994
JOHN REID was a man of many parts and several careers, in each of which he distinguished himself - a specialist in community medicine, a senior civil servant and a world leader in international health.
Born in Scotland in 1925, Reid qualified in medicine from St Andrews University in 1947. He was a student during the national debates prior to the creation of the National Health Service - the concept of which he strongly supported all his professional life. In later years he expressed the hope that 'politicians might some day stop playing street football with the service'. He believed that it was the ideal basis for the cost-effective provision of health care for everyone.
Following national service in the Royal Army Medical Corps, he retained links with the corps, rising to command a Territorial Field Ambulance and being appointed an Honorary Consultant in Community Medicine to the Army - achievements of which he was immensely proud.
Later Reid moved into public health, spurred by a fascination with the organisation and practice of medicine and a conviction that public health could do much to foster co-operation between hospitals, general practice and public health to the ultimate benefit of patients. At this stage he concentrated on the sociomedical aspects of diabetes mellitus - a topic for which he received a World Health Organisation Fellowship to study in the US and which subsequently became the basis of his MD thesis.
As County Medical Officer of Health for Northamptonshire, and later Buckinghamshire, he stimulated the functional integration of all branches of the health-care services, and fostered the emerging concept of primary health-care teams by attaching local-authority staff to general practices. He was also closely involved in the planning and establishment of health services for one of the largest of the 'new towns' - Milton Keynes.
In 1972 he became Deputy Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health and Social Security in London, where he served under Sir George Godber, whom he greatly admired and from whom he said he learned much. At this time he became a member of the World Health Organisation Assembly and its Executive Board, on which he was to serve as Vice-Chairman and later Chairman (1978-79) - a post in which he was particularly effective at a time when the organisation was developing its policies on primary health care as the key to its goal of 'Health for All by the Year 2000'.
In 1977 Reid returned to Scotland as Chief Medical Officer, where he regarded the resource and management issues as being on a more realistic scale. He encouraged studies on maternal and perinatal mortality and forged links between Scotland and Finland in the investigation of common health problems. When he retired from this post in 1985 he was appointed Consultant Adviser on International Health to the Department of Health and Social Security. He was a member of its Board of Management of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which he chaired from 1989 until his death.
Reid received many awards and honours, of which he took the greatest pleasure in the honorary doctorates from the universities of St Andrews in 1979 and of Dundee in 1985, the prestigious Leon Bernard Prize of the World Health Organisation (1987), and in his appointment as KCMG (an unusual appointment for a home civil servant).
John Reid had an ability to pick and lead a team, and he inspired loyalty in most of his colleagues, who admired him for his forthright manner, his integrity and his sense of justice. Those who worked with him - as well as his family - knew that he could be difficult at times, and he never suffered fools gladly, but behind the austere Celtic exterior there lurked a warm and humorous man.
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