Sir David Nicholson has announced plans to retire as chief executive of the NHS in England in March next year, after several calls for his resignation.
Sir David, who became chief executive of NHS England in 2011 following seven years as chief executive of the NHS, will end his 35-year career in the NHS, where he worked in over 14 organisations in many parts of the health service.
While the health secretary praised Sir David for helping to reduce waiting times and infection rates during his reign, campaigners have called the move a ‘change for the better’.
Sir David’s leadership was fraught with controversy, and last year he faced calls to resign over the failings identified in the Francis Inquiry at Mid Staffordshire Foundation NHS Trust. Sir Nicholson acted as interim chief executive of the health authority that oversaw Stafford hospital, where up to 1,200 patients died because of failures in care.
He apologised for his handling of the case but refused to resign, telling a committee of MPs he was ‘absolutely’ still the man to lead the NHS.
In his resignation letter to Professor Malcolm Grant, chair of NHS England, Sir David did not give a specific reason for his resignation.
The letter said: ‘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 Grant replied: ‘Sir David’s career within the NHS over 35 years has been exceptional, and his leadership through the radical changes in the NHS of the past two years has been absolutely fundamental to their success. In particular, the establishment, set-up and launch of NHS England has been an immensely difficult task, undertaken by Sir David concurrently with leading the NHS in its former guise. Thanks to Sir David’s leadership we are now in as good a position as we could be to take on the challenges that lie ahead.’
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said Sir David had a reputation for remaining calm in a difficult job. He said: ‘Under Sir David Nicholson’s leadership, NHS waiting times have fallen, infection rates reduced, and mixed sex accommodation is at an all-time low.’
But Julie Bailey, a spokesperson for Cure the NHS, a campaign group set up in the wake of the scandal over failures in care at Mid-Stffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, said on social networking site Twitter that this news was a ‘change for the better’.
‘Nicholson was part of the problem not the solution, along with others who failed at Mid Staffs’ she added.