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Potter appointed Health Ministry’s chief science advisor

Newly appointed Chief Science Advisor to the Ministry of Health Professor John D Potter.

Professor John Potter from the Centre for Public Health Research has been appointed as chief science advisor to the Ministry of Health.

The new role has been welcomed by Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s chief science advisor, and the ministry’s director-general Chai Chuah.

Mr Chuah says, “Professor Potter is eminently qualified to add to the high quality advice the Ministry is constantly seeking. His experience in scientific research will allow him to challenge the thinking processes we use in delivering core health values.

Professor Potter’s research has been aimed at understanding the risk and biology of colorectal, breast and pancreatic cancers, developing biomarkers for screening and early detection and monitoring cancer progression in high-risk individuals.

He says New Zealand has many strengths in its healthcare infrastructure but there are places where further attention to prevention and early detection of disease will pay dividends.

Professor Potter said, "With leadership on science issues from Sir Peter Gluckman and its own internal priorities, the Ministry has already begun to work on some of these with, for instance, clear recognition of the problem of childhood obesity and the launching of a pilot programme on colorectal cancer screening.

“Policy is made, in the end, on the basis of politics and economics – the art of the possible.  However, having as good as possible understanding of the science matters so that whatever policy is drawn up for initial consideration is as well informed as it can be.

“It is clear to me the Ministry of Health has many talented people who can work on good policy; what they need, in a number of situations, is an assessment of the state of the science in the relevant area.  Science, particularly in relation to health, is fluid. New findings and new analyses are with us almost daily in some areas. In order to synthesise all that data and knowledge in the best possible way, having a epidemiologically trained biomedical scientist on hand should really help. I am honoured and delighted to take up this opportunity and challenge.”

Sir Peter Gluckman says, "I am delighted that the Ministry of Health has appointed a science advisor – it adds immensely to the capacity of our evolving science advisory system. John Potter is an outstanding appointment, with a depth of experience and an ideal skill set for the role. I look forward to working with him as we collectively work to improve the use of evidence in policy development and evaluation."

Director of Massey’s Centre for Public Health Research Professor Jeroen Douwes says, “John Potter has a long and distinguished career in cancer epidemiology and has the ability to communicate across different disciplines including medicine, public health, biomedical sciences and health policy. He is ideally suited for this role and will be a significant asset to the Ministry of Health.”

Professor Potter will take up his role on January 7, 2016.

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