Darzi was born in Baghdad, Iraq to Armenian parents displaced by the 1915 Armenian Genocide. His family had lived in Erzurum, Ottoman Empire (now Turkey). His paternal great-grandparents, Tatyos and Elbiz Shiroian, had one daughter and four sons. Elbiz and her daughter, Arevalous (Darzi's grandmother), were the only survivors of the genocide. They fled on foot to northern Iraq with the aid of a friend of Tatyos. Darzi's father was born in Mosul and his mother was born in Baghdad.
Darzi is fluent in Armenian and attended Armenian mass services growing up in Baghdad, where he was a choirboy. He graduated from Baghdad College, but the situation in Iraq in the late 1980s led to his family's emigration. At 17, he moved to Ireland to study medicine, while his parents and sister eventually settled in London. "We were refugees. We had thrived in Iraq. But it was quite clear that we had to move on again. The first Gulf war was looming. I remember my father saying: 'The kids need to get out of here,'" Darzi recalled in 2015.
He studied medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, obtaining the degrees of LRCP&SI MB BCh BAO in 1984, and subsequently obtained the postgraduate degree of MD at Trinity College, Dublin. He moved to the UK from Ireland in 1990 to further his career in surgery. In 1991, he was appointed as a consultant surgeon at Central Middlesex Hospital at the age of 31 and then moved to St. Mary's Hospital in 1994.
His wife, Lady Wendy Darzi, is Irish. They have two children, Freddie and Nina.
Darzi joined Imperial College London in 1994, obtained his Professorship in 1996 and became the Chair of Surgery and Head of Department in 1998. Darzi holds the Paul Hamlyn Chair of Surgery at Imperial College London and the Institute of Cancer Research. He is also an honorary consultant surgeon at St Mary's Hospital, and the Royal Marsden Hospital. He has held many senior administrative appointments within the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College, Research Council, Editorial Board of Scientific Journals, and medical royal colleges.
Darzi was educated in Ireland, awarded an MD from Trinity College Dublin and the Fellowships of essentially all the Royal Colleges of Surgeons in the British Isles (Ireland FRCSI, England FRCS, and both Scottish Colleges FRCSEd, FRCPSG). He also holds the Fellowship of the American College of Surgeons and has been elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and more recently a Foreign Associate of the Institute of Medicine. From 2005 to 2008 he was president of Bath Institute of Medical Engineering (BIME). In December 2008 he received an Honorary degree (Doctor of Engineering) from the University of Bath. In 2010 he was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, and an Honorary Fellow of the National Institute of Clinical Excellence.
Darzi's main clinical and academic interest is in minimally invasive surgery and allied technologies in which he and his team are internationally recognised. He leads a team of researchers covering a wide spectrum of engineering and basic sciences research topics including Medical Image Computing, Biomedical Engineering, Clinical Safety, surgical education and training at post-graduate and undergraduate levels and Robotics. He has published more than 800 peer review papers and authored, co-authored or edited several books.
This work has received international recognition including the Queens Anniversary Prize for Excellence in Higher and further education 2001, Hamdan Award for Medical Research Excellence in 2004. In 2006 Darzi and his department were awarded the highly prestigious Rector's Research Excellence Award for their work on Surgical Robots. He has also delivered many prestigious and named lectures around the globe.
On 2 May 2013, Lord Darzi was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society, one of the world's oldest self-governing Fellowships, established in 1660, with membership made up of the world's most distinguished scientists drawn from all areas of science, engineering, and medicine.
Darzi is an enthusiastic advocate of Patient record access arguing that interested patients and carers, especially those accustomed to self-management of their condition, should take the lead in creating apps and other means of accessing records that are customised to the needs of patient groups.
In December 2006 NHS London asked Darzi to "develop a strategy to meet Londoners' health needs over the next five to ten years" and so his report Healthcare for London: A Framework for Action was published on 11 July 2007. Largely implemented, it recommended the development of academic health science centres and the introduction of more primary services in one place: polyclinics. The plan for moving care from hospitals to GP-led polyclinics was not successful. Nick Clegg called it "the central imposition of a polyclinic on every primary care trust, regardless of the geography, demographics and clinical needs of the area" .However his call for trauma, acute stroke and heart attack services to be centralised in specialist units succeeded and has been widely copied.
On 29 June 2007 Darzi was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department of Health in the House of Lords at the Department of Health by the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. He was duly raised to the peerage on 12 July 2007 as Baron Darzi of Denham, of Gerrards Cross in the County of Buckinghamshire. His appointment was a small part of a political shift by government to incorporate more talents, see historical predecessors such as the Ministry of All the Talents however he only lasted 2 years in the post.
Darzi was tasked with leading a national review to plan the course of the NHS over a decade, reporting back to the Prime Minister, Chancellor, and Secretary of State for Health in June 2008. He cooperated with the Department of Health to undertake the “NHS Next Stage Review”.
Darzi was quoted in The Times as saying that "...This Review should be both clinically-led and evidence-based". The final report of the Review, High Quality Care for All, was published in June 2008 to considerable public and academic acclaim. The Financial Times stated that it was "the world's most ambitious attempt to raise the quality and effectiveness of an entire nation's healthcare". The Lancet acknowledged that:
"Darzi has wisely thrown out regulation as the organising principle of the NHS. He has replaced it with quality...This cultural shift is a radical re-visioning of purpose for the NHS—away from the political command and control of processes and towards professional responsibility for clinical outcomes"
Through High Quality Care for All, academics suggested that Darzi has updated traditional notions of professionalism and described a new accountability in clinical practice. Following publication, Darzi remained in his ministerial post. He was associated with the plan to develop Polyclinics in England. The plan for moving care from hospitals to GP-led polyclinics was quietly reversed when the costs became apparent, but his call for trauma, acute stroke and heart attack services to be centralised in specialist units was seen as successful and was widely copied.
As a government minister, Darzi found himself responsible for leading the passage of health-related legislation through the Lords.
Darzi's leadership as a health minister was the culmination of many years of involvement in health policy. Immediately prior to joining the government, Darzi led a review of health services in London, identifying the opportunities to raise clinical quality across the capital. He was also National Advisor in Surgery to the Department of Health. Darzi's report in this role 'Saws and Scalpels to Lasers and Robots: Clinical case for change’ (April 2007), argued for a change to the way surgery is organised to maximise patient benefits.
In June 2009, Darzi was appointed as a member of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council and in November 2010, under David Cameron, became a United Kingdom Global Ambassador for Health and Life Sciences; a role he continued until 2012.
In July 2009, Darzi relinquished his post as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. The Prime Minister praised his "outstanding contribution". and The Guardian said that:
"Instead of waging war on the medics, as his Blairite predecessors had done, Darzi invited them to take a hand in designing their own targets and bound them into reform. He stressed the quality of care after Labour's decade-long obsession with quantity. And while the drive for private involvement continued, it took a less dogmatic turn. The NHS's morale improved, as did its public standing."
In September 2013, Darzi was appointed by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson to lead a review of health and wellbeing and services in London. The London Health Commission which reported in October 2014 proposed the toughest measures seen in the UK to tackle the "obesity emergency" that leaves one in three 10-year-olds overweight or obese, including Ofsted-style ratings highlighting the best and worst schools at promoting healthy eating, and requiring chain restaurants to include "traffic light" calorie warnings on menus. He called for the Mayor to rewrite the London Plan to give borough councils greater protecting in banning takeaways from within 400m of the school gates.
In January 2014, Darzi was awarded the Qatari sash of Independence by HH the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in recognition of his contribution to the development of Qatar's health sector.
He was named by the Health Service Journal as the 38th most influential person in the English NHS in 2015.
After July 2009, Lord Darzi returned to his clinical and academic work and has expanded his involvement in global health issues. In June 2010 he was appointed Chairman of the Institute for Global Health Innovation at Imperial College, a body dedicated to improving healthcare around the world and reducing health inequalities in developed and developing countries. In 2012 the Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI) hosted the inaugural Global Health Policy Summit in London, during the London 2012 Olympic Games. This event brought together global healthcare leaders, academics and industry to debate key topics on global health and included a keynote address by Prime Minister David Cameron.
In 2013, Lord Darzi hosted the World Innovation Summit for Health in Doha, Qatar, under the Patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser al Missned and Qatar Foundation. This international event attracted more than one thousand delegates from industry, academic and the healthcare sector and world-renowned political and royal figures including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, His Royal Highness The Duke of York, Princess Lalla Salma of Morocco, HRH Princess Ghida Talal of Jordan and HRH Princess Dina Mired of Jordan.
He has also run training courses for doctors in Armenia and helped Armenian doctors come to London for clinical training. He has also performing several laparoscopic surgeries in Yerevan, and supplied hospitals in Armenia with equipment and surgical kits.
In 2002, Darzi was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) for his services to medicine and surgery and subsequently was created a Life Peer on 12 July 2007, as Baron Darzi of Denham, of Gerrards Cross in the County of Buckinghamshire. He was appointed to Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council in June 2009.
Darzi was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2013. His nomination reads
In the 2016 New Year Honours, he was awarded the Order of Merit, for services to medicine.