Is it time to appoint a Chief Engineering Officer in government, given the profession’s vital role in the national response to Covid-19?
As the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty has been a near-constant presence during the Covid-19 crisis, bringing a measured and objective approach to disseminating the crisis as it unfolds.
Socially distanced alongside a government minister and peers including Dr Patrick Vallance, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Prof Whitty has been relentless in spelling out the severity of the crisis and the measures needed to overcome it.
Engineer readers will be well aware of the profession’s response to Covid-19 and the efforts that have taken place to provide ventilators and PPE in significant quantities at short notice. These – and the rapid deployment of Nightingale Hospitals and other temporary health care facilities in the UK – are the stories that have made it into the public consciousness as the nation continues its efforts to protect the NHS from new Covid-19 cases.
They also show – once again – that in a time of crisis the efforts and expertise of engineers are vital in the national push to beat Covid-19.
With Prof Whitty’s role of CMO in mind, is there now a case for the appointment of a Chief Engineering Officer? This person would provide similar levels of objective input on the practicalities of converting exhibition centres and other buildings into medical facilities, applying innovation to pinch points in supply chains (as seen with PPE), transport and infrastructure.
Does the profession need a figurehead to guide the government and raise the profile of the profession in the wider public, or does the role of Government Chief Scientific Adviser sufficiently cover the input of engineering into government decisions? Similarly, do the engineers within the Government Science & Engineering section of the Civil Service, or those called upon to join Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), provide Westminster with sufficient engineering rigour?
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