General Gordon Messenger, an ex-vice chief of defence staff, will conduct the most far-reaching review the sector in England has seen in 40 years, the government claimed.
The move, on the eve of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, follows the announcement last month of a £12bn-a-year cash injection to help the health service catch up after the pandemic.
Ministers said they want the former military chief to make sure “every pound of investment is well spent” while driving innovation and more efficient ways of working.
Health secretary Sajid Javid claimed Sir Gordon’s efficiency drive “will help make sure individuals and families get the care and treatment they need”.
The announcement is designed to reflect the key themes of Mr Johnson’s “levelling up” agenda which is expected to feature heavily at the Tory conference in the coming week.
But the push to make the Conservatives the party of the NHS was dealt a blow when the prime minister sparked outrage by saying “never mind” about cancer death rates and the recent fall in life expectancy.
Grilled about his plans for Britain’s recovery from the Covid crisis, Mr Johnson chose to emphasise economic growth over health measures.
Pointing to the recent rise in wages, he told the BBC: “I’ve given you the most important metric – never mind life expectancy, never mind cancer outcomes – look at wage growth.”
Labour pounced on the remarks, accusing the prime minister of showing an “outrageous” disregard for the health of British citizens.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told The Independent: “Boris Johnson starts his conference with the most chilling words ever spoken from a prime minister dismissing the importance of cancer outcomes.”
Meanwhile, Mr Javid risked a row with trade unions and care home providers after saying care home workers who are not willing to get the Covid jab should “get out and get another job”.
And there are storm clouds hanging over the Tory conference with motorists in some parts of the country still facing long queues for fuel.
Businesses, from meat processors to retailers, have warned of empty shelves and delays to deliveries unless immigration rules are relaxed to allow in more overseas workers.
Fifteen million households are also facing an increase of at least £139 in their energy bills as a result of the latest Ofgem price which came into force on Friday.
It coincides with the phasing out of the £20-a-week uplift in universal credit payments, brought in as a temporary measure at the start of the pandemic, as well as the ending of the furlough scheme which helped protect more than 11 million jobs.
Household budgets will take a further hit from next April when national insurance contributions rise by 1.25 per cent to pay for the government’s investment in the NHS and social care.
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