Sir David Nicholson quits: NHS chief steps down in wake of Mid Staffs scandal

He took on the job less than two years ago and will leave his role next March

Whitehall Editor

The head of the NHS Sir David Nicholson is to step down from his role, it was announced today, following a sustained and sometimes virulent campaign to force his resignation over the Mid Staffordshire scandal.

Sir David, 57, took on the job as chief executive of NHS England less than two years ago.

But his position became increasingly untenable after was heavily criticised in the media and by some health campaigners following the publication of the Francis Report into the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of patients at Stafford Hospital. He was in charge of the regional health authority responsible for the hospital at the height of the failings between 2005 and 2006.

Sir David, who will leave his post next March, admitted in a letter to the chairman of NHS England, that "on occasion" the health service was still failing "patients, families and carers".

"This continues to be a matter of profound regret to me," he said.

He also appeared to take a swipe at the Conservative's controversial health reforms - which critics have warned has placed the NHS under intolerable pressure at a time of huge pressure on budgets.

"Whatever the rights and wrongs of the wider reforms, the creation of a national organisation with the independence and resources to act in the interests of patients remains a prize worth fighting for," he said.

He added:  "I have only ever had one ambition and that is to improve the quality of care for patients. I still passionately believe in what NHS England intends to do. My hope is that by being clear about my intentions now will give the organisation the opportunity to attract candidates of the very highest calibre so they can appoint someone who will be able to see this essential work through to its completion."

Professor Malcolm Grant, chair of NHS England, said Sir David's leadership through the radical changes in the NHS of the past two years had been "absolutely fundamental to their success".

"In particular, the establishment, set-up and launch of NHS England has been an immensely difficult task," he said. 

"I should like to express my personal appreciation for all Sir David's support and guidance to date."

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt also praised Sir David's leadership.

"NHS waiting times have fallen, infection rates reduced, and mixed sex accommodation is at an all-time low. His job has often been incredibly complex and very difficult, and yet he has always had a reputation for staying calm, and maintaining a relentless focus on what makes a difference on the NHS frontline."

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