Tribute’s paid to ‘inspiring’ public health expert Professor Sir Paul Cosford

Luke Powell, PA
·3-min read

Tributes have been paid to leading public health expert Professor Sir Paul Cosford, who has died after a four-year battle with cancer.

Sir Paul, who served as Public Health England’ (PHE) emeritus medical director, was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer in 2017 and died on Monday morning, his widow Gillian Leng tweeted.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock and NHS national medical director Stephen Powis are among those who have paid tribute, describing him as a “remarkable and inspiring” colleague.

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Sir Paul, who has never smoked, said in February that “nothing can prepare you for being told you have cancer”, and urged people to speak to their GP if they notice any symptoms.

In October last year, at the age of 57, he wrote in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) calling for a rethink on assisted dying.

He said he was aware that his cancer will “end my life before many more years pass” and said his “biggest fear around dying is the lack of control”.

Sir Paul said he never wanted to be a supporter of changing the law in favour of assisted dying.

But he said a prescription to allow him to bring forward the end of his life would mean that he – and others in a similar position – “could have more open conversations with our carers about how our lives will end”.

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Announcing his death, Sir Paul’s widow tweeted: “With huge sadness, I want to let people know that my dear, dear husband Paul Cosford died this morning after an inspiring 4 years of living with cancer.

“He worked tirelessly to support the pandemic response and will be missed by many, but especially by me.”

Sir Paul joined PHE in 2012, having previously led the national and local delivery of health protection services within the Health Protection Agency from 2010.

He served as PHE’s medical director and director for health protection from 2012 to 2019.

Mr Hancock tweeted: “I’m so sorry to hear the news today of Paul Cosford’s death. He was a remarkable & inspiring colleague. He made a huge contribution to public health for his whole life & was taken by cancer too young.”

Professor Powis described him as a “kind colleague” and a “tremendous source of inspiration to all who were privileged to know and work with him”.

He added: “Paul made a massive contribution to public health and even while he was ill, he was helping us in our battle against coronavirus.

“I admired him so much and he will be very sorely missed. My thoughts are with Gill and his family at this difficult time.”

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “Another terrible sadness today: the loss of Dr Paul Cosford, emeritus medical director at Public Health England.

“A distinguished & inspiring leader who led with his humanity and compassion. He also fought his cancer with great courage and dignity. RIP Paul from your many friends.”