Victorian health chief Rosemary Lester to retire

Victoria’s chief health officer Dr Rosemary Lester has announced she will retire next month after more than two decades of public service.

Dr Lester joined the Victorian Health Department in 1989 and was appointed to the position in March 2012.

During her career she oversaw the state’s response to a number of public health issues, from heatwaves to swine flu.

She previously worked in the areas of immunisation, infectious and communicable diseases and perinatal health.

Last year she was awarded a Public Service Medal for outstanding public health leadership.

But Dr Lester’s decision-making was widely criticised during last year’s Hazelwood mine fire in Victoria’s east.

Despite air pollution reaching dangerous levels in the early days of the fire, Dr Lester waited almost three weeks to advise vulnerable Morwell residents to leave town.

An inquiry into the fire concluded Dr Lester’s advice should have been issued earlier.

Premier Daniel Andrews said Dr Lester made her own decision to stand down and the Government had no role in her decision to retire.

“My views on the way Hazelwood was handled are very well known, and clearly we think there is still some significant issues to be dealt with there, some ground to be covered,” he said.

“But today is not a day to be reflecting on the past, other than to say thanks very much Dr Lester for the work you’ve done and we wish you well.”

The Victorian branch of the Australian Medical Association thanked Dr Lester for her “steadfast dedication to public health”.

“Dr Lester has been an exemplary public health leader in a challenging role which demands analysing a plethora of public health issues to ensure that Victorians are protected from outbreaks and health risks,” AMA Victoria president Dr Tony Bartone said in a statement.

Dr Lester will remain in the role until the end of February.