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NHS England director to step down

Published on: 18 Feb 2022

One of NHS England’s longest-serving senior figures is to leave their role with the national body.

Sir Keith Willett is to step down as national director for emergency planning and incident response in March to become chair of an ambulance trust.

Sir Keith, who joined the NHS Commissioning Board at its inception in 2012 as medical director for acute care, has played lead roles in both the health service’s response to the pandemic and Brexit.

He will begin a new role as South Central Ambulance Service Foundation Trust chair in April, taking over from Lena Samuels, who is becoming chair of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Integrated Care System.

Sir Keith has long been regarded as a safe pair of hands during an incredibly turbulent period for the NHS. He was entrusted by NHSE’s board with a string of key roles, including senior responsible officer for the covid-19 vaccination programme, NHS strategic incident director for the covid-19 pandemic, and NHSE’s strategic commander to prepare for EU Exit.

Prior to joining the Commissioning Board, which later re-branded as NHSE, he was the Department of Health’s first national clinical director for trauma care. He also provided patient care as a professor and consultant in trauma surgery from 1992 to 2012 in Oxford and has spent 40 years working for the NHS. Prior to the pandemic, he was frequently called on to explain NHS issues to the television media.

An internal announcement sent to NHSE staff yesterday about Sir Keith’s impending departure also said Mike Prentice, national strategic incident director for covid-19, would now lead the emergency preparedness, resilience and response and potential incident investigation preparation and recovery teams. He will report to NHSE chief operating officer Sir David Sloman.

In a quote included in the internal message, NHSE chief executive Amanda Pritchard, said: “I would like to thank Keith for everything he has done whilst working for [NHSE] and, more recently, for helping lead our response to the pandemic. I’m delighted that he is staying within the NHS family and that South Central Ambulance Service will benefit from his experience and expertise. I wish him all the best in his new role.”

Sir Keith said: “I do need to thank so many people for all the support they have provided over so many years. It has been an enormous pleasure to work with you all.

“Recent times have severely tested us and I’m acutely aware that so many in the NHS have given so much, and for some everything. The NHS is made up of people caring for people and it’s now time to recover ourselves and our services. I’m certainly not ready to retire so I’m delighted to be able to take my experiences to again help a frontline service.”