Liverpool welcomes new Director of Public Health

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Liverpool’s new Director of Public Health officially begins the job today of keeping its 500,000 citizens healthy and happy – but he won’t be setting foot outside his house.

Matt, 47, joins Liverpool City Council amidst its huge operation to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic but due to government guidelines will have to help co-ordinate the many challenges it poses from his small study.

The father of two arrives from Sefton Council – where he held the role of Director of Public Health for the last four years, as the worst public health crisis in a century is taking grip of the country.

Matt, who grew up in the city and attended Calderstones Comprehensive, will be working closely with the University of Liverpool, holding the position of Honorary Professor, Department of Public Health and Policy.

This new joint role will help to ensure that the strategic aims of the department of Public Health and Policy align with the huge practical issues facing the city.

Liverpool has played a pioneering role in public health, introducing the world’s first ‘medical officer of health’ in 1847 with the appointment of Willian Henry Duncan to help co-ordinate the city’s response to cholera.

The Director of Public Health is a statutory position and Matt is the 13th person to hold the position for the whole of Liverpool, with the previous incumbent, Sandra Davies, retiring in December 2019 after almost six years in the role.

Matt’s father John was the North West Regional Director of Public Health making them the first father and son to hold such a position in the UK.

Matthew Ashton, Director of Public Health for Liverpool said: “Although this is my first official day with Liverpool City Council I have been working closely with Public Health colleagues in Liverpool, and indeed the City Region, for a number of weeks to co-ordinate a joined up approach to tackling Covid-19.

“Now more than ever it’s critical that we work shoulder-to-shoulder with our health partners, the academic sector, and many other stakeholders across Merseyside, to pool knowledge, skills and resources.

“I know this is an extremely testing time but I have been really impressed with how Liverpool has led the charge bringing partners to the table to work together, and the efforts that have been made to provide accurate, trustworthy and regular coronavirus messages for our residents.

“We all have a role to play in fighting this pandemic and I am looking forward to being part of these efforts – despite the fact that most of us are doing so from the confines of our home.”

Cllr Paul Brant, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care said: “Matt is a welcome addition to our Public Health team in the council and will play a pivotal role in co-ordinating Liverpool’s response to Covid-19.

“As a city we are breaking new ground in the field of public health by jointly funding the post of Director of Public Health with the University of Liverpool. This twin-pronged approach, combining oversight of academic research and practical implementation of policy will help to improve the lives of some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.”

Professor Sally Sheard, Head of the Department of Public Health and Policy at the University of Liverpool, said: “I am delighted to welcome Matt to his new Liverpool post. This re-establishes the tradition of a joint city-university role, which has previously worked so successfully. 

“Matt is a much-valued long-standing colleague through his previous posts at Sefton and Knowsley, and he also completed his Masters in Public Health at the university. We are looking forward to working closely with Matt, especially on our shared public health research agenda, and to drawing on his expertise for our educational programmes.”