'National treasure' Jonathan Van-Tam to step down as deputy chief medical officer

13 January 2022, 09:08 | Updated: 13 January 2022, 10:34

Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam will step down at the end of March
Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam will step down at the end of March. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Jonathan Van-Tam, who has been hailed as a 'national treasure', is set to step down as England's deputy chief medical officer.

The professor will leave to take up a new role as the Pro-Vice Chancellor for the faculty of medicine and health sciences at University of Nottingham.

In a statement, Sir Jonathan said his time as DCMO had been "the most challenging" part of his professional career, but had also been "the greatest privilege".

"My time as DCMO has been the most challenging of my professional career, especially the Covid response," said the professor, who gained public affection for his use of analogies to explain coronavirus.

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"We all wish Covid had never happened. Notwithstanding, it has been the greatest privilege of my professional career to have served the people of the UK during this time.

"I want to pay tribute to (chief medical officer) Professor Chris Whitty, the CMO team, my fellow scientists, public health professionals and clinicians whose support, wisdom and energy has been inspiring.

"There are countless numbers who work behind the scenes - all of whom have an unrelenting commitment to help and support the British public. It has been an honour to work with them all."

He will continue to work for the Government until the end of March.

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Sir Jonathan, who is partially of Vietnamese descent, has become a popular figure throughout the pandemic, known for his memorable analogies to help aide public understanding of the virus.

In April 2020 he described the lag between hospitalisations and deaths as like a garden hose, saying: "It's a bit like a hosepipe in your garden, with a tap at one end and when you turn that tap off water still comes out the hosepipe for a few seconds before it dies down."

He also turned to camping to explain the rationale behind expanding the booster jab programme, saying "it's better to put some extra guy-ropes on there and then" if you are in a tent and you know there is going to be a storm overnight, instead of going out "in the middle of the night" and getting soaking wet.

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Tributes have poured in for Sir Jonathan, fondly nicknamed JVT by politicians, the media and the public.

Sajid Javid said Sir Jonathan was a "national treasure" and his skills of communicating complex science to the public "no doubt played a vital role in protecting" them.

"JVT's one-of-a-kind approach to communicating science over the past two years has no doubt played a vital role in protecting and reassuring the nation, and made him a national treasure," he said.

"I pay tribute to his relentless work ethic, sense of public duty and leading role in our incredible vaccination programme - on behalf of DHSC (Department for Health and Social Care) I wish him the best of luck on his return to the University of Nottingham."

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In a separate tribute posted to Twitter, the Health Secretary said it had been an "honour" to work with Sir Jonathan, who has been on secondment to the Department of Health from the University of Nottingham for the last few years.

Mr Javid tweeted: "It has been an honour to work with JVT and I am hugely grateful for his advice & the vital role he has played in our vaccination programme. I wish him all the best for the future at @UniofNottingham @UoNFacultyMHS."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson added: "I would like to thank Jonathan Van-Tam for his extraordinary contribution to our country and his invaluable advice throughout the pandemic. Wishing him the very best for the future."

Professor Chris Whitty, England's chief medical officer, said: "Professor Van-Tam has been an outstanding DCMO and public servant.

"I am profoundly thankful for his steadfast support, advice, leadership and commitment. His communication of public health advice and science has been remarkable."

University of Nottingham Vice-Chancellor, Professor Shearer West said the institution was "incredibly proud" of the professor and was "delighted" to welcome him back.

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Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock also thanked Sir Jonathan for his work, writing on Twitter: "Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam has done so much for his country. He drove the vaccine programme, he gave superb advice on managing the pandemic, and he will most be remembered for cheering us all up in lockdowns with his extraordinary metaphors.

"JVT is one of the best public health communicators in history.

"His public service continues back in academia. The whole world owes him our thanks."

Mr Hancock shared the tribute alongside a photo showing him receiving his Covid vaccine from the professor.