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Chris Whitty

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Professor Sir
Chris Whitty
Whitty in 2020
Chief Medical Officer for England
Assumed office
2 October 2019
Preceded bySally Davies
Government Chief Scientific Adviser
In office
18 September 2017 – 4 April 2018
Preceded byMark Walport
Succeeded byPatrick Vallance
Personal details
Christopher John MacRae Whitty

(1966-04-21) 21 April 1966 (age 58)
Gloucester, England

Sir Christopher John MacRae Whitty KCB FRS (born 21 April 1966) is a British epidemiologist, serving as Chief Medical Officer for England and Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Government since 2019.

Whitty was Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care and Head of the National Institute for Health and Care Research from 2016 to 2021. He was also the Acting Government Chief Scientific Adviser from 2017 to 2018. He is emeritus Gresham Professor of Physic.

Since March 2020, Whitty has played a key role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK, alongside Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance. Whitty was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in the 2022 New Year Honours for services to public health.

Early life[edit]

Whitty was born in Gloucester on 21 April 1966, the first of four sons born to Kenneth and Susannah Whitty.[1][2][3][4] His father was a British Council officer, who was posted to various countries including Nigeria, where the family lived in Kaduna, and Malawi. While Deputy Director of the British Council in Athens, Kenneth Whitty was murdered by militants from the Abu Nidal Organisation,[5] in 1984, when Whitty was 17.[6] His mother was a teacher.[4][7][8] His maternal uncle Sir Christopher MacRae was also a diplomat,[9] and his grandmother Grace Summerhayes was a pioneering obstetrician in Africa,[2] who helped set up the first maternity hospital in Ghana in 1928.[6] His paternal grandfather John Whitty MC DSO was killed in World War II and his step grandfather was Sir George Coldstream.

Whitty was sent back to the UK for his schooling,[2] where he attended Windlesham House School in Pulborough, West Sussex, and Malvern College, Worcestershire. He then studied at Pembroke College, Oxford for a BA in physiology (1988) and a DSc in medical science (2011); Wolfson College, Oxford for a BM BCh in medicine (1991), where he was also the founding chair of the National Postgraduate Committee;[10] the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for a DTM&H (1996) and an MSc in epidemiology (1996); Northumbria University for an LLM in medical law (2005); Heriot-Watt University for an MBA (2010); and The Open University for a GrDip in economics.[3][4]


Whitty is a practising National Health Service (NHS) consultant physician at University College London Hospitals (UCLH) and the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, and was Gresham Professor of Physic at Gresham College, a post dating back to 1597.[3][11] [12] Until becoming CMO he was Professor of Public and International Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) where he was also Director of the Malaria Centre and he remains a visiting professor there.[13] He worked as a physician and researcher into preventing or treating infectious diseases in the UK, Africa and Asia, especially malaria and other parasitic diseases but also other infections of resource-poor settings. In 2008 the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded the LSHTM £31 million for malaria research in Africa. At the time, Whitty was the principal investigator for the ACT Consortium, which conducted the research programme.[4][14]

Government roles[edit]

The former Department for International Development (London office) (far right)

From 2009 to 2015, Whitty was Chief Scientific Adviser and director of research for the Department for International Development (DFID).[11][4][15] He led the Research and Evidence Division, which worked on health, agriculture, climate change, energy, infrastructure, economic and governance research. During this time, with co-authors Neil Ferguson and Jeremy Farrar, he wrote an article in Nature titled "Infectious disease: Tough choices to reduce Ebola transmission",[16] explaining the UK government's response to Ebola in support of the government of Sierra Leone, which he took a leading role in designing, including the proposal to build and support centres where people could self-isolate voluntarily if they suspected that they could have the disease.[17]

From January 2016 to August 2021, Whitty was Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care, responsible for the department's research and development work, including being Head of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).[3]

From 2017 to 2018, Whitty was also interim Government Chief Scientific Adviser and head of the science and engineering profession in government.[3] During this period Novichok, the military nerve agent, was responsible for the 2018 Salisbury poisonings, and Whitty chaired the government SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group in Emergencies) and advised COBR for the crisis.[3][4]

Whitty was appointed Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England in 2019.[3]

COVID-19 pandemic[edit]

Whitty and two of his deputies, Jenny Harries and Jonathan Van-Tam, took high-profile roles during the COVID-19 pandemic.[18][19] This included appearing – often with prime minister Boris Johnson and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance – in televised news conferences, and giving evidence to parliamentary bodies.[4][20] From 19 March, Whitty appeared in public information adverts on national television, explaining the government's social-distancing strategy to reduce the spread of the virus during the pandemic.[20][21]

On 27 March, Whitty was reported to be self-isolating owing to symptoms consistent with COVID-19 after Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock had tested positive for the virus.[22] On 6 April, he had reportedly returned to work having recovered from the symptoms of the virus.[23] In July, he told the Lords Science and Technology Committee that elimination of the disease in the UK would be very difficult, a view that was contested by other scientists including members of the Independent SAGE group.[24]

At a televised briefing on 12 October where the Prime Minister introduced three tiers of localised restrictions, Whitty said he was "not confident" that the measures in the highest tier would be "enough to get on top of it".[25][26] Whitty and Vallance presented updated data and forecasts at a televised briefing on 31 October, where the Prime Minister announced stricter measures for the whole of England.[27]

During the outbreak, BBC health editor Hugh Pym called him "the official who will probably have the greatest impact on our everyday lives of any individual policymaker in modern times".[20] The Guardian's sketch writer, John Crace, described him as "the Geek-in-Chief, whom everyone now regards as the country's de facto prime minister". At the same time, he was compared to James Niven, the Scottish physician known for reducing the death rate of influenza during the 1918 flu pandemic in Manchester.[28]

During the Christmas weekend of 2020, Whitty was spotted treating coronavirus patients in London. It was said he "worked the shifts in his capacity as a practising doctor [as] a consultant physician at University College London Hospitals Trust... on the north London hospital's respiratory ward over the weekend and bank holiday Monday".[29]

On 26 June 2021 a group of COVID-19 protesters demonstrated outside what appeared to be Whitty's flat in central London.[30] Earlier in the month Whitty was followed down a street by a prominent anti-vaccine activist who shouted at him for being a liar, and in February he was called a liar multiple times while waiting for a takeaway lunch at a street food stall.[31]

On 27 June, Whitty was the subject of manhandling, described by Johnson as "despicable harassment", by Lewis Hughes and Jonathan Chew in St James's Park, Westminster, who filmed the event for social media.[32] The Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, said such behaviour would not be tolerated and that those responsible "should be ashamed". The Vaccines Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said they were "thugs" and should face charges. Hughes subsequently pleaded guilty to a charge of beating and was given an eight-week suspended custodial sentence.[33] He had previously apologised for any "upset" caused and had lost his job as an estate agent over the incident.[34] In January 2022 Chew, who had initially pleaded not guilty, changed his plea and was given an eight-week custodial sentence.[35]

Awards and honours[edit]

Whitty was appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in the 2015 New Year Honours for public and voluntary service to Tropical Medicine in the UK and Africa.[36] He is a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences.[12]

Public lectures outlining his views on tackling current challenges in medicine and public health include over 20 Gresham lectures on topics such as infectious diseases, public health, cancer, cardiovascular diseases;[12] and the 2017 Harveian Oration and the Milroy Lecture at the Royal College of Physicians.[4][12][13]

In September 2021, Whitty was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Plymouth in recognition of his support for the university's medical science research community.[37]

Whitty was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in the 2022 New Year Honours for services to public health.[38][39][40] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2023.[41] In 2023 he was awarded the Royal Medal of the Royal Society.[42]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Whitty, Christopher J. M.; Farrar, Jeremy; Ferguson, Neil; Edmunds, W. John; Piot, Peter; Leach, Melissa; Davies, Sally C. (2014). "Infectious disease: Tough choices to reduce Ebola transmission" (PDF). Nature. 515 (7526): 192–194. Bibcode:2014Natur.515..192W. doi:10.1038/515192a. PMID 25391946. S2CID 4470451.
  • Whitty, C. J. (2017). "Harveian Oration 2017: Triumphs and challenges in a world shaped by medicine". Clinical Medicine. 17 (6): 537–544. doi:10.7861/clinmedicine.17-6-537. PMC 6297683. PMID 29196355.
  • Lewis, A. C.; Jenkins, D.; Whitty CJM (2023). "Hidden harms of indoor air pollution - five steps to expose them". Nature. 614 (7947): 220–223. Bibcode:2023Natur.614..220L. doi:10.1038/d41586-023-00287-8. PMID 36755167. S2CID 256667056.


  1. ^ "Christopher John Macrae WHITTY personal appointments - Find and update company information - GOV.UK".
  2. ^ a b c Neville, Sarah (13 March 2020). "Chris Whitty, disease expert leading the UK's coronavirus response". Financial Times. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Whitty, Prof. Christopher John Macrae". Who's Who. 1 December 2018. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U250932. ISBN 978-0-19-954088-4. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Sample, Ian; O'Carroll, Lisa (4 March 2020). "Prof Chris Whitty: the expert we need in the coronavirus crisis". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
  5. ^ "Diplomatic mission". The Guardian. 9 June 2000. Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  6. ^ a b Sample, Ian; Stewart, Heather (22 March 2021). "'A class act': Chris Whitty, the calm authority amid the Covid crisis". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  7. ^ Norton-Taylor, Richard (9 June 2000). "Diplomatic mission". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 March 2020.
  8. ^ "Gunman Kills British Diplomat". The Glasgow Herald. 29 March 1984. Retrieved 17 March 2020.
  9. ^ "Quiet family funeral for shot diplomat". The Guardian. 7 April 1984. p. 2. Retrieved 3 January 2021.
  10. ^ "Minutes of the meeting of the National Postgraduate Committee, 30 June 1990". JISCmail. Retrieved 1 September 2021.
  11. ^ a b "Chief Medical Officer and DHSC Chief Scientific Adviser: Professor Chris Whitty". gov.uk. Department of Health and Social Care. Retrieved 7 June 2019.
  12. ^ a b c d "Professor Chris Whitty". Gresham College. Archived from the original on 24 September 2013. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
  13. ^ a b PHE. "Public Health Matters: Chris Whitty". gov.uk. Public Health England. Retrieved 7 June 2019.
  14. ^ "London School of Hygiene celebrates new $59 million Gates funding". EurekAlert!. 6 March 2008. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
  15. ^ Waldman, Thomas; Barakat, Sultan; Varisco, Andrea (2016). "Annexe: Mapping research and policy". Understanding Influence: The Use of Statebuilding Research in British Policy. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. p. 218. ISBN 978-1-472-42757-1.
  16. ^ Whitty, Christopher J. M.; Farrar, Jeremy; Ferguson, Neil; Edmunds, W. John; Piot, Peter; Leach, Melissa; Davies, Sally C. (2014). "Infectious disease: Tough choices to reduce Ebola transmission". Nature. 515 (7526): 192–194. Bibcode:2014Natur.515..192W. doi:10.1038/515192a. PMID 25391946.
  17. ^ "Infectious disease: Tough choices to reduce Ebola transmission | Ebola Response Anthropology Platform". www.ebola-anthropology.net. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  18. ^ "Meet Jenny Harries, the doctor talking sense in the coronavirus pandemic". The Daily Telegraph. 23 March 2020. Archived from the original on 10 January 2022. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  19. ^ "Coronavirus: UK trialling existing and new medicines". BBC News. 3 April 2020. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
  20. ^ a b c Pym, Hugh (17 March 2020). "Chris Whitty: The man with our lives in his hands". BBC News. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  21. ^ Heffer, Greg (18 March 2020). "Coronavirus: Government to air first TV adverts with advice for Britons". Sky News. Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  22. ^ "Coronavirus: Chief medical officer Chris Whitty self-isolates with symptoms". Sky News. Sky. 27 March 2020.
  23. ^ Jones, Amy (6 April 2020). "Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty returns to work after a week in self-isolation with coronavirus symptoms". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 10 January 2022.
  24. ^ Devlin, Kate (24 July 2020). "Scientists hit out at Chris Whitty for claiming UK unlikely to eliminate coronavirus". The Independent. Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  25. ^ "Whitty 'not confident' new measures will be enough". BBC News (Video extract). 12 October 2020. Retrieved 13 October 2020.
  26. ^ Devlin, Kate (12 October 2020). "Chris Whitty 'not confident' that three-tier lockdown restrictions will work". The Independent. Retrieved 13 October 2020.
  27. ^ "Six graphs that led to the new Covid lockdown for England". ITV News. 31 October 2020. Retrieved 4 November 2020.
  28. ^ Pidd, Helen (27 March 2020). "First 'Geek-in-Chief': shy Scot who paved way for Prof Chris Whitty". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  29. ^ "England's top medic Chris Whitty treated Covid patients over Christmas weekend". The Independent. 29 December 2020. Retrieved 5 January 2021.
  30. ^ "Police investigating after Chris Whitty accosted in park". BBC News. 29 June 2021. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  31. ^ Allegretti, Aubrey; Slawson, Nicola (29 June 2021). "Chris Whitty may get police protection as PM condemns 'despicable harassment'". The Guardian.
  32. ^ "Boris Johnson condemns 'thugs' who harassed Chris Whitty in London park". ITV News. 29 June 2021.
  33. ^ "Prof Chris Whitty: Man sentenced for St James's Park assault". BBC News. 30 July 2021. Retrieved 15 February 2024.
  34. ^ "Man charged with common assault after Chris Whitty incident". BBC News. 2 July 2021. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  35. ^ "Chris Whitty assault: Man jailed for eight weeks over attack". BBC News. 27 January 2022. Retrieved 15 February 2024.
  36. ^ "New Year's Honours lists 2015" (PDF). Government of the United Kingdom: Cabinet Office and Foreign Office. 8 January 2015. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
  37. ^ "Chris Whitty joins Plymouth grads as he's given Honorary Doctorate". ITV News. 24 September 2021. Retrieved 3 January 2022.
  38. ^ "No. 63571". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 January 2022. p. N3.
  39. ^ "New Year Honours: Whitty, Van-Tam and Blair knighted, Lumley and Redgrave made dames". BBC News. 31 December 2021. Retrieved 31 December 2021.
  40. ^ "New year honours feature Covid experts with Chris Whitty knighted". the Guardian. 31 December 2021. Retrieved 6 January 2022.
  41. ^ "Chris Whitty". royalsociety.org. Retrieved 24 May 2023.
  42. ^ Royal Medal 2023

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by Government Chief Scientific Adviser

Succeeded by
Preceded by Chief Medical Officer for England