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New Year Honours 2024: Former Newnham College principal Dame Carol Black awarded rare Dame Grand Cross after work on illicit drugs





Professor Dame Carol Black, the former principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, who wrote a hard-hitting independent review of the impact of illicit drugs on society, has been made a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE) for public service.

A Grand Cross is the highest rank in the Order, and is very rarely awarded, recognising only the most exceptional and sustained service to the UK.

Prof Dame Carol Black. Picture: Richard Bailey
Prof Dame Carol Black. Picture: Richard Bailey

In 2019, with drug-related deaths and crimes at all-time highs, Dame Carol was appointed to lead a major independent government review of illicit drugs. This was published in two parts in 2020 and 2021.

Part 1 of her review laid bare the extent of the £10billion illicit drug market in the UK, which serves three million drug users, and detailed an increasingly violent and exploitative supply chain which drives most of the nation’s crime.

Part 2 concluded that the public provision in the UK for prevention, treatment and recovery was not ‘fit for purpose and urgently needs repair’. Dame Carol, who wrote for the Cambridge Independent about improving quality of life in the Cambridge region, said: “Government faces an unavoidable choice – invest in tackling the problem or keep paying for the consequences.”

On receiving the honour, she said: “I am absolutely delighted to have been made a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire. This award comes almost 20 years after I received a DBE for services to medicine and recognises the progress being made to tackle some of the most entrenched and interrelated problems in society – poverty, homelessness, unemployment, and drug dependency.

“Drug dependency is still stigmatised but it needs to be recognised as a chronic health condition. My heartfelt thanks go to everyone who has helped and supported me, and to those individuals doing great work on the frontline to change culture and practice.”

Following the publication of her review, Dame Carol secured record government funding - £780m over three years – to tackle drugs misuse in the UK and successfully galvanised commitment to a cross-government approach within a new holistic drug strategy to address the various challenges she identified.

This work followed a 2016 independent review analysing the impact on employment prospects for people battling drug addiction, alcohol addiction or obesity; and two other influential independent reviews, in 2008 and 2011, on health, work, wellbeing and sickness absence, all affecting productivity. From 2006, Dame Carol had a growing interest in the social determinants of health, particularly employment and worklessness.

The Order of the British Empire was Instituted in 1917 by George V during the First World War to reward services to the war effort by people not on the front line. However, the honours are now appointed to civilians as well as members of the armed forces.

A Grand Cross is the highest level in the order and is usually only given to someone who is already a Knight or a Dame and has gone on to give the most ‘exceptional and sustained’ service to the UK. Since its creation, fewer than 80 women have been awarded a GBE and Dame Carol Black is the first female doctor to be made a Dame Grand Cross in the Order of The British Empire.

Dame Carol is chair of the British Library and chairs the boards of the Centre for Ageing Better and Think Ahead, the Government’s training programme for mental health social workers. From 2012 to 2019 she was principal of Newnham College at the University of Cambridge - suffragist Millicent Garrett Fawcett, co-founder of Newnham College, was herself made a Dame Grand Cross in 1925.

Dame Carol previously received a damehood (DBE) in 2005 for services to medicine and since then has devoted her professional life to broader determinants of health including health, work, wellbeing, productivity and illicit drugs.



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