Skip to main content

Government seeks ‘critical friend’ chair to hold NHS England accountable

Published on: 1 Nov 2021

The government is seeking a new chair for NHS England who will be a ‘critical friend’, hold the organisation to account, and nurture links with the pharma industry.

They should also ensure that “NHS England’s strategic direction is aligned to wider government and health and social care policy”, according to a role description published last week.

NHS England previously announced that the incumbent, Lord David Prior, would step down early in the new year, after serving about three years and three months of a four-year term.

Among other requirements his successor will need to “maintain strong business relationships with key private sector stakeholders who provide valuable NHS services, particularly pharmaceutical companies and other life sciences businesses who are providing the covid vaccines”.

Lord Prior has championed life sciences during his time, but also faced criticism for interactions with business figures such as Lex Greensill.

The new role is advertised at a £63,000 salary, for two to three days per week — the same as when Lord Prior was appointed.

The role description said: “As the NHS emerges from the pandemic, the chair will play a crucial role in holding the organisation to account to deliver improvements in patients’ care, value for money and broader health reforms.”

“This will include elective service recovery and creating a new integrated system between health and social care, focussed on improving outcomes required as a result of the health and social care levy established in September 2021.”

The person specification said: “The Department of Health and Social Care values and promotes diversity and encourages applications from all sections of the community.”

“The boards of public bodies should reflect the population they are there to serve. Boards also benefit from fresh perspectives, and we are always keen to encourage candidates with private sector experience to consider applying for our roles.”

NHSE is due to formally merge with NHS Improvement in April, under the Health and Care Act currently before Parliament, which will also increase the health and social care secretary’s powers of direction over NHSE, and ability to set the direction for the NHS.

The appointment will be made by ministers, but the advisory panel for the appointment includes Sir Chris Wormald, permanent secretary at the Department of Health and Social Care, Samantha Jones, the prime minister’s expert advisor on NHS transformation and social care and Ron Kalifa, a non-executive director of the Bank of England court of directors.

Lord Prior, who as previously a Conservative whip, gave up the party whip in Parliament when he became NHS England chair, whereas Baroness Dido Harding, when she became chair of NHS Improvement in 2017, declined to do so.