Who is Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer working the wards this Christmas?

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said he will be working the wards at Christmas as he urged the public “to have sense” this festive season.

But what else do we know about the nation’s top medic, now a familiar face at Downing Street press conferences?

Prof Whitty is an NHS consultant physician and epidemiologist with an extensive background in the study of infectious diseases, including Ebola.

He also acts as the UK Government’s chief medical adviser and chief scientific adviser for the Department of Health and Social Care.

In October 2019, he became the chief medical officer for England.

In the 13 months since, Prof Whitty has been seen at dozens of Downing Street press conferences, often alongside the Prime Minister and chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance.

At Thursday’s press conference, Prof Whitty urged the public to be cautious as Christmas approaches, advising against hugging and kissing elderly relatives this Christmas.

Asked about his own plans for Christmas, Prof Whitty replied: “Actually, I’ll be on the wards.”

Prof Whitty is a practising NHS consultant physician in acute medicine and infectious diseases at University College London Hospitals and the Hospital for Tropical Diseases.

He is also the Gresham Professor of Physic at Gresham College.

Prof Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance
Prof Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance

Prof Whitty qualified from Oxford in 1991 before training in infectious diseases and tropical medicine.

Since, he has undertaken research in Africa and Asia as well as the UK, working as a Professor of Public and International Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

The 54-year-old started his career in government in 2009 as the chief scientific adviser to the Department for International Development (DFID).

The civil servant held the post until 2015, working on the UK’s response to the West African Ebola epidemic which began in 2013.

He was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath in the 2015 New Year honours.

He has also held the positions of deputy government chief scientific adviser and interim head of government science and engineering profession.

Prof Whitty is a part of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), alongside Sir Patrick and Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer since October 2017.

He self-isolated in March after having displayed symptoms of Covid-19 as Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive for coronavirus.