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Face of UK Government pandemic briefings Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam reveals he is UHI student

By Val Sweeney

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Is Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam, former deputy chief medical officer for England, UHI's most famous student?
Is Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam, former deputy chief medical officer for England, UHI's most famous student?

A health expert who earned nationwide fame for his media appearances during the coronavirus pandemic has revealed he is a UHI student.

Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam became the face of public health briefings for the UK Government.

But it has also emerged he is currently enrolled on a distance learning post graduate course with UHI.

Professor Van-Tam revealed his student status as he joined guests at today's official opening ceremony by Princess Anne of the £9.5 million Life Sciences Innovation Centre at Inverness Campus.

Although he first enrolled for the MSc course in leadership and management in 2016, he had to suspend his studies between 2017 and 2022 because of his workload.

Professor Van-Tam, who is now resuming his studies, revealed it was his first visit to the campus although he has previously visited Inverness.

"I don't know if I will go away with a Masters, or stop as you are able to with a postgraduate diploma," he said.

"I am very grateful to the university and staff because they stuck with me through some very difficult years where they could have treated me as a write-off.

"I have another two years to go.

"I think it is probably more realistic I will go through to this summer and by that point have enough points to have a a postgraduate certificate in leadership and management."

Professor Van-Tam, who went to medical school at the University of Nottingham in 1982, explained why he chose UHI to study for his present studies.

"I am from a traditional red brick university," he said.

"There are lots of new universities now and I just wanted somewhere which felt different – and, of course, there had to be the right conditions for online learning.

"I wanted somewhere which could be flexible and cope with the workload."

In addressing the guests during the official opening ceremony, Professor Van-Tam said universities were often at the forefront of research and innovation in life sciences, developing new technologies, treatments, and approaches which transformed the thinking and delivery of healthcare.

"We need look no further than the pandemic we have recently endured, in which the AstraZeneca vaccine which saved so many thousands of lives, was invented at a UK university through its research, funded by the UK Government," he said.

"The use of technology in healthcare has in my view been accelerated very greatly by the pandemic.

There are now even stronger reasons for increasing collaboration between academic research, business, and the healthcare sector."

He said as powerful advances in vaccine technology meant basic threats to life such as infections were being overcome, the emphasis in future healthcare would need to switch to tackling chronic illnesses and cancer.

"There is no rule that says the next big breakthrough will not come from a smaller university and more local or regionally focused universities can very often be better connected to local business enterprises and to communities of healthcare practitioners," he said".

"The next big breakthrough may not be a new drug or vaccine but a new point of care test, a medical device or an antimicrobial surface coating that substantially reduces risk or improves therapeutic impact through intervention at the earliest possible moment.

UHI has every opportunity to be a part of whatever comes next in the Life Sciences and Healthcare Research revolution now taking place.

"I look forward to seeing the positive impact that this new facility will have in the months and years to come, in both making discoveries and training scientists who may then go elsewhere to continue their journeys for the benefit of


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