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John Lancelot Burn (1903-1973)

Dr Lance Burn

Lance Burn took up the position of Medical Officer of Health for Salford in 1941, a post which he remained in until he retired in 1969. He was literally a hero almost as soon as he arrived in Salford as he rescued a trapped nurse out of the rubble of the old Salford Royal Infirmary, bombed in 1941. He was born in the NE of England on Tyneside, educated in Durham and worked initially in Jarrow at the time of the famous unemployment march which clearly had a lasting impact on him. After taking up jobs in Plymouth and Barnsley he came to Salford where he made an immediate impact on Public Health. It is probably difficult for us , even with some of the difficulties we now face around high rates of obesity , diabetes and cardiovascular disease , to fully appreciate the size of the challenge that he encountered on arriving in Salford. He is particularly remembered for his work relating to the reduction of air pollution and the clearance of slums. The respiratory problems associated with poor air quality and the regular acrid smogs were a major health issue and something I can remember from my own childhood. After the legendary London “ killer smog “ of 1952, Lance Burn became a member of the Beaver Committee which enabled him to exert a national influence on the drive for  “clean air “. Just a few years before he died he had the satisfaction of knowing that Salford had become one of the first cities in Europe to become completely covered by smoke control orders.

His input and impact in preventative medicine in Salford and the UK were colossal and included the introduction of smoking cessation campaigns, setting up obesity clinics, developing mental health services and introducing immunisation and screening clinics by nurse practitioners. He was a lecturer in Public Health at the University of Manchester for many years and he was author of numerous important papers and the respected text book “Recent advances in Public Health “.  He led Salford to become the first city to be regarded as being diphtheria free and was instrumental in making Salford one of the first cities to tackle TB through introducing mass screening chest X-rays. He also developed one of the first computerised patient registers for community-based medical services. His legacy is that Salford is a healthier place to live in and the improved housing and air quality undoubtedly led to a reduction in chronic respiratory conditions and infection. He is still regarded as being an outstanding pioneer of preventative medicine and as someone devoted to the City of Salford, which he served for so many years.

For all this, Lance Burn was a modest man and lived in Irlam O’ Th’ Heights where he indulged his passion for growing roses. Other than the medical centre in Churchill Way being named after him, his contribution to medicine has not been formally recognised.