NHS appoints 'continuity candidate' Amanda Pritchard as first female chief executive

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Amanda Pritchard - News Scans
Amanda Pritchard - News Scans

The NHS has given its top job to a “continuity candidate”, with the current deputy of the organisation set to assume the role.

Amanda Pritchard, the first woman to run the health service, has worked for NHS England for two years as chief operating officer, and joined the health service almost 25 years ago.

When Lord (then Sir Simon) Stevens announced plans to stand down earlier this year, officials embarked on a global search for his successor.

One of the most controversial applicants was Baroness Harding, former head of NHS Test and Trace, who was ruled out some weeks ago.

Shortlisted candidates are understood to have included Mark Britnell, the KPMG boss, Tom Riordan, the Leeds City Council chief executive, and former Amazon UK boss Douglas Gurr.

On Wednesday, the decision was taken to appoint closer to home, awarding the top job to Lord Stevens's deputy.

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said Ms Pritchard would bring a “steady hand” to the NHS. And health service managers described Ms Pritchard as “the continuity candidate” who would hit the ground running.

Ms Pritchard, a career NHS manager, who joined the health service in 1997, has long been considered front-runner for the job, which she will take up this weekend.

On Wednesday night she said: “I am honoured to lead the NHS, particularly as the first woman chief executive of an organisation whose staff are more than three quarters female.

“I have always been incredibly proud to work in the health service but never more so than over the last 18 months as nurses, doctors, therapists, paramedics, pharmacists, porters, cleaners and other staff have responded so magnificently to the Covid pandemic.”

The recruitment process was carried out by the board of NHS England, but the Government has a right of veto over the appointment.

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister approved the appointment.

It comes amid NHS reforms, which will see the organisation Lord Stevens ran for the last seven years lose its independence and become more accountable to ministers.

Low-profile candidate

NHS insiders had long speculated that the Government might prefer a low-profile candidate, with ministers having sometimes come off badly from public spats with Lord Stevens on matters such as funding.

Lord Stevens, who became a crossbench peer three weeks ago, is expected to continue to advocate for social care reform, a cause he has frequently highlighted.

Boris Johnson said: “I am delighted Amanda has been appointed the new NHS chief executive, the first woman in the history of the health service to hold this post. This is a critical moment for the NHS as it continues to care for Covid-19 patients whilst tackling treatment backlogs caused by the pandemic.”

Waiting lists are now the highest on record, with more than five million people in line, and last week Lord Stevens said that even with the right resources, it could take three years to clear the backlog.

Before joining NHS England, Ms Pritchard spent seven years as head of Guy’s and St Thomas’, one of the country’s biggest hospital groups.

Mr Javid thanked Lord Stevens for his “invaluable contribution” and dedication to the NHS.

Mr Javid said he was delighted by the appointment of the first woman to the post in NHS history, saying Ms Pritchard brought a “steady hand” to the health service at a crucial time.

“Amanda brings an unparalleled wealth and depth of experience, having worked in the NHS for nearly twenty five years, and at this crucial moment for our country frontline staff will value her operational experience and steady hand,” he said.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents health service organisations, said: “Amanda is the continuity candidate and her appointment ensures she will hit the ground running when Lord Stevens leaves.”

Ms Pritchard joined the NHS through the graduate management training scheme in 1997, and held a succession of management posts, becoming deputy chief executive of a major London hospital aged just 29.

The NHS manager, who is married with three young children, has also served as a health team leader in the Cabinet Office's delivery unit.

Ms Pritchard has said she inherited “a strong public service ethos” from her parents, with her father a Bishop, and mother a maths teacher. She studied history at Oxford University after attending a comprehensive school in Durham.

Ms Pritchard will be in charge of the NHS's annual budget of almost £150 billion and the service's 1.2 million staff.

The role has had a salary of around £200,000, though Lord Stevens took a voluntary £20,000 pay cut throughout his time in post.

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