Victoria names next chief health officer as Sutton signs off

Victoria names next chief health officer as Sutton signs off

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Public health expert Dr Clare Looker has been named as Victoria’s next chief health officer as Professor Brett Sutton leaves the role.

Sutton finished up in the role with the Victorian Department of Health on Friday, with Looker taking over for a 12-month stint from Saturday.

Clare Looker, Victoria’s newly appointed chief health officer.

The Department of Health described Looker as an experienced public health physician who has held multiple senior leadership roles since joining the department’s public health team in 2016.

Her experience at the department includes working alongside Sutton throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, holding the position of deputy chief health officer.

Looker is highly regarded in the field and has a strong background in public health medicine, particularly in communicable diseases, environmental health and epidemiology, a department spokesperson said in a statement.

She has also worked in clinical medicine and as an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Her contributions in the field of health were recognised in the 2022 Victorian Public Sector Women Awards.

Looker’s appointment follows the surprise resignation of Sutton from the Victorian health department leadership position in June.

Sutton left the top job after four years in the role to accept a position at the CSIRO. Sutton has shifted to a public health role at the national science agency as its new director of health and biosecurity.

Sutton thanked Victorians in a final tweet before handing over the chief health officer reins and social media account handle on Friday.

“Thank you, good folk of Victoria,” Sutton posted.

“In the immortal words of Jeff Fenech, I love youse all!”

After announcing his resignation last month, Sutton revealed details of the toll leading Victoria through the pandemic had taken on him, which included working 16-hour days and receiving death threats.

He acknowledged, with the benefit of hindsight, some aspects of the public health response would have been done differently. Despite becoming a divisive figure in the state as a result of his decisions relating to public health, Sutton was named the 2023 Victorian of the Year for leading the state through the pandemic.

Professor Sutton’s last day on the job coincided with the department announcing it would no longer issue weekly COVID-19 updates via Twitter. COVID data will continue to be updated on the department’s website.

“We once again thank him for his incredible contribution to Victoria since he started in the role in 2019 and wish him every success in his new position,” the Department of Health said in Friday’s final COVID update.

Christian McGrath and Helen O’Brien will jointly act in the role of deputy chief health officer, supporting Looker in her new position. Looker said she was looking forward to taking up the chief health officer role from Saturday.

“I’m a public health physician who has spent 13 years wrangling with some of the tricky challenges of public health,” Looker wrote on social media.

“I’m looking forward to continuing this work and using Twitter (or X?) to get to know you!”

– with AAP

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