Celebrating the life of Professor John Wyn Owen CB
14th Feb 2020
Heartfelt tributes have been paid to Bevan Commissioner Professor John Wyn Owen CB who has passed away at the age of 77 following a long illness.
Professor Owen had a long and distinguished career in the NHS in Wales, the wider UK and overseas, including becoming the first Director of the NHS in Wales in 1985 and Director General of NSW State Health Ministry in Australia.
His work spanned public, private and charity sectors. He was a leader globally in health development working with the World Health Organisation and the Nuffield Trust. He was a Founding Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales, Professor at several universities and Chair of the University of Wales Institute Cardiff.
As a Bevan Commissioner he championed and prudent healthcare and promoted strong leadership, high quality care delivery and patient safety in NHS Wales.
Bevan Commission Chair and great friend of Professor Owen, Professor Sir Mansel Aylward has spoken of the great sadness of his loss but also the need celebrate his remarkable achievements that made such an impact on public life.
He said, “John was such a valued member of the Bevan Commission and brought wisdom, challenge, erudite knowledge and expertise which fully exploited his distinguished career spanning population health, academia and the civil service in the United Kingdom and Australia.
“He made outstanding contributions to public service and was committed to improving the health and wellbeing of the people in Wales and beyond.
“His legacy will continue to drive forward the Bevan Commission’s commitment to ensuring that the National Health Service in Wales remains recognisable to its architect, Aneurin Bevan. Our thoughts must now be with his family at this very sad time.”
Born in North Wales in 1942, Professor Owen was always extremely proud of his Welsh roots. As a chapel-goer, he attributed a simple approach to life but also the start of his understanding of the socialist values that underpin health and well- being in communities.
His belief in the need to ensure the stewardship of resources, particularly of the human kind, was to feature very prominently in his thinking about the Welsh NHS and beyond.
After graduating from St John’s College, Cambridge, he entered the Ministry of Health’s Training Scheme at the King’s Fund Hospital in London, followed by a number of posts in Wales in hospital and health services administration.
In 1971, he was appointed to a joint post with the King’s Fund and St Thomas’ Hospital to look at the commissioning of health services research and in 1974 was appointed as the first District Administrator of St Thomas’ Hospital and Health District (Teaching).
A period followed as Director of UME (United Medical Enterprises), a UK Government established company working on health services development globally for governments and aid agencies.
In 1985, Professor Owen returned to his homeland as the first Director of the NHS in Wales, Chair of the Secretary of State’s Health Policy Board Executive Committee and Chair of the all Wales Health Services Authority. He was known for his dedication and hands-on approach to his work in Wales, knowing how important it was to speak to frontline healthcare staff to understand what they needed and how he could help them to do things better.
In 1993, he became Director General NSW State Health Ministry - Australia’s largest organisation- and Chair of the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council.
He returned to the UK in 1997 as Secretary of the Nuffield Trust and integrated its grants, fellowships and publications to promote independent analysis and informed debate on UK Health policy.
Professor Sir Michael Marmot who worked with Professor Owen at the Nuffield Trust and the Bevan Commission said, “John always seemed to me to be timeless. He had changed so little from when he was at the Nuffield Trust till now. Then, with a twinkle and a sparkle, he brought people together in international fora to discuss the big issues of health in the world. I always thought of him as a friend and one of the good people.”
Following retirement in 2005, John held various positions including Wales Board member and Chair of the Global Health Committee, Health Protection Agency; Chair Welsh Government’s Health Protection Committee; Vice Chair UK Health Forum and Chair of the 2013 UK Canada Colloquium on New Realities for Global Health.
Bevan Commission Deputy Chair Chris Martin said, “We have lost a great friend, a great mind and a thoroughly good man. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and whilst he will no longer be with us in person I know he will never be forgotten by his Bevan family.”
A devoted family man, Professor Owen leaves behind his wife Elizabeth, children Sian and Dafydd, grandchildren Tom, Fearne, Pearl and Allegra.