Wales’ Chief Medical Officer on lockdowns, public pressure and getting married in a pandemic

  • Dr Frank Atherton: "I've never received anything other than great courtesy here in Wales."

The Chief Medical Officer for Wales says he has “never received anything other than great courtesy” from the public during the pandemic.

Dr Frank Atherton's comments follow an incident involving his counterpart in England, Chris Whitty in which he was accosted in a central London park. Two men have been charged in connection with that incident. 

He acknowledges that “it is difficult sometimes being in the public eye” but he says “our job is to brush that off and to get on with the job in hand.”

He makes his remarks in the first programme of a new series of Face to Face with me, Adrian Masters. 

Frank Atherton appears on the new series of Face to Face with Adrian Masters Credit: ITV Wales

In the interview he talks about the sense of responsibility that comes with giving political leaders advice for decisions which can literally mean life or death. 

“There were some very scary numbers and though we haven't reached those numbers I'm all the time conscious of the fact that we've lost, you know, over five and a half thousand people in Wales to Coronavirus.”

Even as governments across the UK are easing restrictions, Frank Atherton says that further lockdowns can’t be ruled out and he says that, difficult as they were, “the alternative was really unthinkable; it was people dying without care.”

Dr Frank Atherton will be one of the four CMOs giving advice on the rollout to healthy 12-15 year olds. Credit: Welsh Government

The interview is a chance to find out more about the man whose advice has played such a significant role in all our lives. 

He talks about his own strategies for staying grounded during the most difficult days of the last year: running and cycling when it was allowed. 

And when the restrictions eased last summer, he reveals, that he got married, one of the good moments among many darker ones.

He tells me about his family background, his early days as a GP and how working abroad set him on the course to developing a public health role, particularly his experiences in Malawi.

“It was specifically around problems of young girls in childbirth. They would have difficult labours and they would often have a ruptured uterus so they'd be brought into my hospital, which is a district hospital. 

“I was the only doctor working for a population of a third of a million and we would have to rescue these young girls who were brought in. 

“It became very quickly apparent to me that, rather than the surgical skills which we were having to deploy to save these lives, what really mattered was the education of these girls, that they had good nutrition and had good access to contraception, good access to health services and all of those things are the public health message. So I moved from being an individual clinician looking after individual patients to a population perspective.”

Frank Atherton is someone who moved into the public eye in a way he could never have expected when he took up the post of Chief Medical Officer back in 2016.

  • You can watch the full interview on Face to Face, tonight at 10:45pm on ITV Cymru Wales.