Citation for the award of the 1987 Sir William Upjohn Medal
After beginning his medical training at the University of Melbourne David Geoffrey Penington won a scholarship to Oxford where he graduated in 1955. After working as a medical specialist, teacher and researcher in London he was appointed to head the Melbourne University Department of Medicine at St Vincent’s Hospital in 1970. He then served as Dean of the Faculty of Medicine (1978-85) and Vice-Chancellor of the University (1988-95).
During this period, he came to exert considerable significant influence on health in Australia. As chair of the National Blood Transfusion Committee of the Australian Red Cross Society, (1977-83) he led Australian aid programs to modernise blood transfusion in Nepal and in China. He was a member of the National Health and Medical Research Council (1980-85) and chaired the 1984 Commonwealth Inquiry into Rights of Private Practice in Public Hospitals – widely acclaimed as a landmark development in Australian’ health policy
From 1983-87 he also chaired the federal body which came to be known as the National AIDS Task Force. Work undertaken by the Task Force in response to the HIV/AIDS crisis, in particular the needle and syringe exchange program introduced amidst significant controversy, has been acknowledged as critical to the country’s successful management of the epidemic. He was made a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1988 in recognition of his contribution to medicine and to the community.
Since retirement David Penington has continued to contribute as one of the country’s leading public experts on health, advocating in particular for drug policy reform as chair of the Victorian Premier’s Drug Advisory Council, and the Victorian Government’s Drug Policy Expert Committee, and now as patron of the Penington Institute.