Deliver more with less! Job description revealed for new NHS chief - but health experience not essential

Ideal candidate has 'track record of change in a consumer-focussed environment'

Health Reporter

The new leader of the NHS in England will need proven quality in "securing value for money" and "delivering more and better quality with less", according to a newly published job description which officially begins the hunt for NHS England's new chief executive.

However, experience in or knowledge of healthcare systems will not be essential.

The tone of the document echoes comments made by Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England's medical director, who told The Independent earlier this week that the health service had to change the "in-built mind-set that better quality costs more" - and could learn from retailers like PC World who improved technology while reducing prices. 

In a 15-page job description published today, the ideal candidate is described as someone with "a total commitment to serving the public", but also "a track record of change in a consumer-focussed environment".

Sir David Nicholson, the current chief executive, announced his decision to retire earlier this year following sustained criticism in the wake of the Francis Report into the Stafford Hospital scandal. Sir David, who had led the health service since 2006, was in charge of the regional health authority responsible for the hospital at the height of care failings between 2005 and 2006. He will stand down in March next year, ending a 35-year career at the NHS.

His successor will inherit a health service in England facing perhaps the biggest budget crisis in NHS history, with a projected £30bn spending gap by 2020.

"Financial pressures will grow over the coming years, while consumer demand continues to increase," NHS England state in the job description. "The NHS will need to change radically to meet the needs of an ageing population, and to keep pace with scientific and technological advances. We know the quality of the NHS is variable - world class in some areas, unacceptable in others. It is our job to raise standards everywhere to be comparable with the best."

The new chief executive will be appointed by the chairman and non-executive directors of NHS England, but their nomination must be approved by the health secretary Jeremy Hunt. Sir Malcolm Grant, NHS England chair, who will lead the appointment process, said last week he would consider candidates from outside the UK and described the role as one of "advocacy, inspiration and leadership".

He also emphasised that he would be open to candidates without experience in healthcare. The job description states: "Experience in, and knowledge of, healthcare systems (including the NHS) and of public service would be beneficial, although not a prerequisite."

The medical community is watching the appointment process closely. Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said that the new chief executive had to be a person of the “highest possible calibre”, while Matt Tee, chief operating officer at the NHS Confederation said the successful candidate would need to “rise above any political agenda” and commit to “full transparency”.

The frontrunners for the top job include American patient safety expert and former advisor to President Barack Obama, Don Berwick, who was recently appointed to lead a review into safety in the NHS, which is set to be published next week. Several figures in private healthcare have been linked with the role, including KPMG's global head of health Mark Britnell and former Labour advisor Simon Stevens - now executive vice president at American healthcare giant UnitedHealth.

Sir Bruce Keogh has effectively ruled himself out of the running, telling The Independent he did not believe he had "the right skills". Other figures understood to be in contention include NHS Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar and University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust chief executive and former nurse Dame Julie Moore.

Sir Malcolm told the Health Service Journal that he hoped to have a shortlist of candidates by September or October with an appointment to follow soon after.

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