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Mayor Dr Nik Johnson to undergo open heart surgery

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Mayor Dr Nik Johnson is to undergo open heart surgery and will take at least three months leave of absence from Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.

The news was announced today in a brief statement – and video – from the Combined Authority.

Dr Johnson told me he was advised at the beginning of September “you are going to need surgery and going to need it urgently”.

He will undergo the surgery next week.

“Doctors’ orders mean I need to be away not just for the surgery but for time in intensive care, and rehab,” he said.

“My doctor told me to expect to be off for three months.”

In the short term, his statutory deputy Lewis Herbert will take the reigns at the Combined Authority.

However, he will step aside to enable Cllr Anna Smith, leader of Cambridge City Council, to assume the mantle of statutory deputy mayor.

“Theoretically Anna would have been the representative of the city council sitting on the Combined Authority board,” said Dr Nik.

He said the reason it did not happen was Anna had spent recent months getting to grips with the leadership of the city council after Lewis stepped down last October.

He resigned after seven years at the helm.

Cllr Herbert has been at the heart of the devolution deal for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and “has been an absolute star,” said Dr Nik.

“He has helped both me and the Combined Authority immensely in getting through current difficulties.”

Whilst he is away a conduct investigation began earlier this year into Dr Nik’s running of his office will be paused.

He said he had hoped it might have concluded by now.

The mayor said he would leave his role temporarily knowing that under interim chief executive Gordon Mitchell there had been vast improvements to the running of the Combined Authority.

Dr Nik said there was now “a completely different and positive atmosphere” within the Combined Authority.

He credited Mr Mitchell with bringing about substantial changes including bringing in local council chief executives to advise and discuss projects and plugging recruitment gaps.

He said he was grateful to the NHS for their persistence in diagnosing his condition.

“My advice to anyone is to not be shy about getting treatment if you are ill,” he said.

“One thing I have learnt is to take your health seriously.”

As acting mayor, Cllr Smith has spoken of her passion for social justice.

She told the Cambridge Independent last year that her commitment was sparked after her dad, an electrician, had to give up work due to ME when she was in primary school.

“At the time no-one really understood ME, and a lot of people just thought sufferers were stressed or ‘malingering’,” she told the Cambridge Independent.

“And the national benefits system was getting much more punitive – it increasingly felt that people were trying to catch him out – to ‘prove’ that he was really able to work.

“And he would have given anything to have been able to have gone back to work.”

The mayor oversees a £20 million annual budget devolved from government, and also has devolved powers to spend up to £800 million on local housing, infrastructure, and jobs.

Dr Johnson, a consultant paediatrician at Hinchingbrooke Hospital, won the mayoralty in 2021.

He was elected as district councillor for St Neots East in 2018 – the first Labour councillor in the town for two decades – and sat on Huntingdonshire District council’s planning committee.

He lives near St Neots with his wife, who is a fellow doctor, and three children.


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