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Alasdair Liddell

Former NHS policy chief;

Born: January 15, 1949; Died: December 31, 2012.

ALASDAIR Liddell, who has died aged 63, was a driving force behind Britain's controversial health reforms in the 1990s. As the Department of Health's director of planning, he was the principal architect of the process which established national priorities for the then- beleaguered health service in England. It was under his watch, too, that NHS Direct was launched.

He left the corridors of Whitehall in 2000, amid rumours of policy differences with Labour ministers, and became one of the country's most influential consultants, advising various health charities and companies.

Alasdair Donald MacDuff Liddell was born near Pitlochry in 1949, the son of Donald and Barbara Liddell. He was educated at Fettes College in Edinburgh before going to Balliol College, Oxford, in 1967.

He graduated in 1970 with a BA (Hons) in jurisprudence.

He did not return to live in Scotland but chose instead to establish a career in health administration south of the Border. His early working life was spent in the voluntary sector until in 1977 he joined the London borough of Tower Hamlets' planning and policies department.

Three years later he took up a position at Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster area health authority and, in 1982, became general administrator at Hammersmith and Fulham Health Authority.

His next move, in 1984, was to Bloomsbury Health Authority where he served as district general manager before moving to become regional general manager of the local health authority in East Anglia in 1988. It was while working in that post that he developed the so-called "Rubber Windmill" series of simulation exercises designed to test the NHS internal market system.

The Tory Government of the day was in the process of introducing a major reform package of incentives and organisational structures to support the new internal marketing arrangements. However, it was deemed impossible to map the outcome, positive or negative, of the new arrangements using conventional methods.

So in 1990 the East Anglian Health Authority, under Mr Liddell's leadership, commissioned the Office for Public Management to design and run a simulation event over three days in a Norfolk hotel. The results have passed into NHS folklore as has the name the initiative was given – the Rubber Windmill. It was the first time behavioural simulation methodology had been used to understand the future of the health system.

Mr Liddell's formidable reputation as a health administrator led to his appointment in 1994 as director of planning at the Department of Health. Under his stewardship as the NHS's policy chief he saw through significant reforms to the system. He had board level responsibility, not only for planning and priorities, but also information and IT in the NHS, primary care, pharmaceutical services and communications.

During his period as planning director, he worked under both Conservative and Labour governments. He led the teams working on the New NHS 1997 White Paper which attempted to put New Labour's stamp on the NHS by dismantling the internal marketing system and setting up primary care groups. While head of planning, Mr Liddell was highly regarded for his knowledge, strategic orientation and organisational abilities. He was also remembered for his intellectual rigour.

He left the Department of Health in 2000 to help set up a new media company, iMPACT, which specialised in communications between government and business.

Made a CBE for services to the health service in 1997, Alasdair Liddell had more recently been an advisor and consultant for influential health charities such as the King's Fund and the Young Foundation.

Mr Liddell, who lived with his family in London, died suddenly after suffering an aneurysm on Hogmanay while visiting friends in Kintyre.

He is survived by his wife, the former BBC director of audio and music and now chairwoman of the Heritage Lottery Fund Dame Jenny Abramsky, and their two children, Rob and Maia.

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