Director of Public Health who led the borough through COVID is set to retire this week

The Director of Public Health who has been at the helm of Blackburn with Darwen’s course through the Covid pandemic is retiring this week.

As Professor Dominic Harrison throws down the anchor on his 40-year public health career at Blackburn with Darwen, he looks forward to setting sail on some new adventures of his own.

62 year old Dominic has been Blackburn with Darwen’s Director of Public Health for the last 12 years, originally working in the role of Joint Director of Public Health, Engagement and Partnerships with Blackburn NHS Care Trust Plus, then moving to the Council when Public Health became a statutory local authority function in 2013.

With an interest in health inequalities and the impact of poverty on residents’ life chances, Dominic was drawn to working in Blackburn with Darwen. He said:

I came to Blackburn with Darwen after a number of years working as the Deputy Regional Director of Public Health, working as a senior civil servant in the Department of Health in the Government Office North West. I had worked on health inequalities strategy at regional level and wanted to make a difference in reality, in practice, in a specific place. Blackburn with Darwen had a high level of health inequalities and a very strong health and care system – I felt it was a good place to try to make a difference.

Looking back on the last 12 years of his career in Blackburn with Darwen, Dom is full of praise for the organisations and individuals he has worked alongside. He commented:

The borough has a great civic culture and an actively engaged community. My colleagues in the local authority and NHS are hardworking and highly motivated, and Blackburn with Darwen is a great place to make a difference. This is something the pandemic showed us.

I have also really enjoyed working with our elected members in BwD across all parties, all of whom I have had great respect for and learned a great deal from.

Despite being an immensely challenging and pressured time, Dominic says he will look back on the Covid pandemic as a rewarding period in his career. He said:

Although Blackburn with Darwen had a very big hit in the first 18 months of the pandemic, we responded as a whole community really strongly – the Public Health team identified many of the epidemiological challenges early on and brought in local solutions rapidly in partnership with Council departments, our local NHS and the public. Consequently, we are now one of the most pandemic resilient places in the UK.

I am very proud of our pandemic response, and I feel honoured to have been Blackburn with Darwen’s Director of Public Health during this challenging time.

Over the last four decades, Dominic has worked in roles with the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Department of Health within Government Office Northwest, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) where he was a Regional Associate Director. He has also held positions on a number of professional bodies including the NICE Local Government Reference Group.

Reflecting on his career, Dom says one of his proudest achievements is working with the WHO and Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer Harry Burns and Sir Michael Marmot on his European Review of Health Inequalities.

He added:

Blackburn with Darwen was the first local authority to carry out extensive research into Adverse Childhood Experiences, publishing a joint paper with Liverpool John Moores University in 2015. This work drew national attention to the impact of a young person’s upbringing on their health into adulthood, and has also led to the relatively new Trauma Informed Care approach.

This was a very significant piece of work involving many people within the borough’s Public Health team, and it has undoubtedly made a difference on a national scale.

An experienced university lecturer, Dominic is currently an Honorary Senior Lecturer in Public Health at the University of Central Lancashire.

He is also a regular contributor to The Guardian and the British Medical Journal and during the pandemic has been interviewed weekly on BBC Radio Lancashire, and penned a weekly Coronavirus column for the Lancashire Telegraph.

Dominic’s immediate plans for the future include spending more time with his family and enjoying his interests including long distance walking.

Blackburn with Darwen Council Chief Executive Denise Park said:

Having Dom on our team throughout the pandemic has been incredibly valuable – he has undoubtedly strengthened the borough’s response to the Covid pandemic and I’m certain he has helped to save lives through his public health leadership.

Of course, Dom was fighting Blackburn with Darwen’s corner long before the pandemic, leading our public health teams with the ambition to support residents to take control of their own health to improve their life chances. His passion in this area has been unwavering.

Dom has an excellent understanding of our local communities and a drive to serve them through partnership working with other local agencies and groups.

As well as being a learned man, Dom possesses the unique skill of being able to explain often complex matters in ways everyone can understand, and without appearing patronising. His communication skills have been a huge part of his successful career, and also the way he treats his colleagues and peers – he is ever the gentleman.

Like many of Dom’s colleagues, I’m sad to see him leave the Council, but also pleased for him that he has a retirement to look forward to, one that he has well and truly earned. We all wish him a long, healthy and happy retirement.

Blackburn with Darwen’s new Director of Public Health is Abdul Razaq, who joins the authority from Lancashire County Council where he has worked as Deputy Director of Public Health for the last three years.

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