University of Liverpool honours public health academics

Professor Iain Buchan and Professor David Taylor-Robinson

University of Liverpool scientists who play a key role in world-leading research to improve health outcomes have been elected into prestigious academic chair roles in recognition of their work.

Professor Iain Buchan and Professor David Taylor-Robinson have been appointed W. H. Duncan Chairs – named after William Henry Duncan, a pioneer of public health innovation in Liverpool, and the UK’s first civic Medical Officer of Health.

A ‘chair’ is awarded specifically to an individual in recognition of their high levels of achievements and standing in their particular area or discipline. Professor Buchan has been appointed the W. H. Duncan Chair in Public Health Systems and Professor Taylor-Robinson the W.H. Duncan Chair in Health Inequalities. Both Iain and David have extensive track records and expertise in public health research that is making a real difference to the lives of people in Liverpool and beyond.

Dr William Henry Duncan (1805 – 1863), also known as Doctor Duncan, was born and raised in Liverpool and made an enormous difference to the lives of the most vulnerable in the city through his public health work. At a time when Liverpool had its highest ever mortality rate, he worked tirelessly to tackle the social, physical, and cultural causes of disease, influencing public health policies across the country.

The new posts honour the legacy of William Henry Duncan and demonstrate the University’s continuing commitment to public health research in Liverpool.

Iain Buchan is Chair in Public Health and Clinical Informatics in the Institute of Population Health and Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Innovation. A public health physician and data scientist, Iain’s work came to public prominence during the Covid-19 pandemic, when he led the science and co-led field operations of the world’s first city-wide voluntary rapid testing; and the first realistic experimental reopening of mass cultural events following Covid-19 restrictions. He is also founder and University’s lead for the UK’s first Civic Data Cooperative and the Mental Health Research for Innovation Centre.

David Taylor-Robinson is a Professor of Public Health and Policy in the Institute of Population Health and Honorary Consultant in Public Health at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. He is an NIHR Research Professor, and leads a research group addressing inequalities in health. He has a particular focus on improving children’s health and life chances, and was the co-lead author of ‘The Child in the North’, a major report that highlighted the widening inequalities for children growing up in the North of England post-pandemic compared to those in the rest of England.

Iain and David follow in the footsteps of Professor Dame Margaret Whitehead, who held the previous Duncan Chair of Public Health at the University until her recent retirement earlier this year.

Professor Tim Jones, Vice-Chancellor, University of Liverpool said: “The University is delighted to announce the creation of these Chairs, named in honour of England’s first Medical Officer for Health, who is internationally acknowledged as the architect of Public Health. We are exceptionally proud of the University’s heritage of public health research, which continues to this day under the leadership of these two exceptional doctors and researchers, who have each done so much to further our understanding of the impact of health inequalities and the complex interplay of societal challenges on population health.” 

Professor Taylor-Robinson said: “I am deeply honoured to be appointed as inaugural William Henry Duncan Chair in Health Inequalities. This position holds special significance, carrying forward the rich legacy of William Henry Duncan and my esteemed mentor and predecessor, Professor Dame Margaret Whitehead. Their commitment to combating inequality and addressing the root causes of ill health has long been a driving motivation, and I am thrilled to continue this vital work at a time of major challenges. Together, with our outstanding Health Inequalities Policy Research team, and colleagues across the University and our city, we can make a lasting impact on the health and well-being of future generations.”

Professor Buchan commented: “I am humbled to take up this chair, which celebrates the pioneering civic public health cooperative led by William Henry Duncan, in close step with James Newlands and Thomas Fresh – a system of medicine, engineering and civic operations. Although we live in a more technologically advanced world, today’s public health challenges are as complex as they were in 1846, requiring multi-disciplinary understanding to organise society’s efforts in the face of climate change, antimicrobial resistance, conflicts, pandemics, rising mental health conditions and multimorbidity etc, linked to pervasive, pernicious, worsening inequalities. Increasingly, artificial intelligence (AI) will come to affect the health and life chances of us all. Public health systems must evolve quickly to harness the benefits and mitigate the harms from AIs. I am therefore delighted that Liverpool has had the foresight to establish the W.H. Duncan Chair of Public Health Systems, in partnership with the W.H. Duncan Chair of Public Health Inequalities.”

Join Professor Dame Margaret Whitehead for her free Valedictory Lecture ‘A Hard Day’s Night: The Politics of Promoting Equity and Health’ on 21 September 2023 at the University’s Tung Auditorium. Read more.