Our weekly guide to healthcare's most influential people

Published: 31/10/2002, Volume II2, No. 5829 Page 18 19

Name: Paul Farmer

Job: Director of public affairs for severe mental illness charity Rethink and chair of the Mental Health Alliance, which is leading the battle against the draft Mental Health Bill

Style: A 'decent'and 'committed'man, whose quietly effective approach to networking has been instrumental in bringing together the disparate and often warring groups which make up the Mental Health Alliance.Even one of the alliance's critics says 'I would be surprised if he had any enemies'.

A colleague thinks his understated style has 'the touch of a successful Iain Duncan Smith'.The suggestion that he 'doesn't ruffle many feathers' might come as a surprise to mental health minister Jacqui Smith, who was confronted with a 'rant' from a performance poet at a fringe meeting hosted by Mr Farmer at the Labour Party conference.Unsurprisingly, he values 'clear communication'and 'integrity'above all - manifest in the decision to consult 3,000-plus users and their carers over the launch of the Rethink name.

Background: After unsuccessfully trying out for Hampshire County Cricket Club, he had to satisfy himself with a history degree from Oxford.

Returned from travelling the world ('18 countries in nine months'), he was determined to pursue a career in the voluntary sector.After learning the ropes in a small education/regeneration charity, he moved to the Samaritans for seven years, rising to press office chief. Joined the National Schizophrenia Fellowship in 1997 and played a leading role in the charity's rebranding as Rethink.

Future prospects: Attempting to ensure the government's wobbling over the bill produces significant changes.Remaining 'committed to the voluntary sector'.