Sir Simon Stevens: when is he stepping down as head of NHS England - and who could replace him?

The NHS England chief is set to join the House of Lords as a peer after stepping down from his role of seven years
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Sir Simon Stevens is stepping down as head of NHS England this summer and will become a peer, the government has announced.

The NHS chief executive will leave his role at “as planned” at the end of July after seven years, and is set to join the House of Lords.

Who is Sir Simon Stevens?

Sir Simon is set to join the House of Lords (Photo: Getty Images)Sir Simon is set to join the House of Lords (Photo: Getty Images)
Sir Simon is set to join the House of Lords (Photo: Getty Images)

Birmingham-born Sir Stevens first joined the NHS in 1988 after studying at Balliol College, Oxford University.

He started his career at Shotley Bridge General Hospital, near Consett, County Durham, as a trainee manager, and went on to work as a frontline manager leading hospitals and health facilities across the country.

This included being a general manager for mental health services at North Tyneside and Northumberland and group manager of Guys and St Thomas’ hospitals in London.

From 1997, the married father-of-two was appointed policy adviser to two successive health secretaries at the Department of Health, and later served as Tony Blair’s health adviser at 10 Downing Street from 2001.

Prior to taking on the role as head of NHS England, Sir Simon spent a decade working in the US as president of the global health division of UnitedHealth Group, a private healthcare giant, and became chief executive of its Medicare business.

He was later appointed chief executive of NHS England in April 2014, making him directly accountable to Parliament for the NHS’ £120 billion of annual funding, and offered to take a 10 per cent pay cut in the first year due to “NHS spending pressures”.

During his time as head of England’s health service, he has clashed with the government over funding, saying in 2017 that it was “stretching it” to say the NHS got more money than it asked for – in comments that contradicted those of then-Prime Minister Theresa May, who insisted the NHS got all it wanted.

The 54-year-old was knighted in the New Year Honours 2020 for services to health and the NHS, and will now join the House of Lords.

More recently, people may recognise him as one of the key medical figures to appear on the Downing Street press briefings alongside government ministers during the coronavirus pandemic.

When is he stepping down?

Sir Simon will leave his role of seven years at the end of July, after overseeing the Covid vaccination rollout to all adults.

He said that he had intended to leave the position sooner, but agreed to stay on through last winter.

In a message to NHS staff, he acknowledged that his departure had been expected inside the service for some time, and added that he had intended to leave his tenure last year, but his plans were put on hold due to the Covid outbreak.

He notified the organisation’s board on Thursday (29 April) of his decision to stand down "as planned" at the end of July, and said: “Having agreed to stay on to see us through the pandemic pressures, now seems like a good time to hand on the baton.”

He added: “Joining the health service in my early 20s was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, followed three decades later by the privilege of leading the NHS through some of the toughest challenges in its history.

“The people of this country have rightly recognised the extraordinary service of NHS staff during this terrible pandemic, as well as the success of our Covid vaccination deployment.

“As the pandemic recedes in this country, the NHS’s track record in advancing medical progress in a way that works for everyone rightly continues to inspire young people to join one of the greatest causes – health and high quality care for all, now and for future generations.”

The announcement was met with a wave of tributes to Stevens, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson stating that he had “led the NHS with great distinction”.

Mr Johnson said: "I want to thank him for his dedicated service throughout - but especially when facing the extraordinary pressures of the past year, and for his huge contribution to our vaccine rollout."

Who will replace him?

NHS England has said a successor would be appointed before Sir Simon steps down on 31 July.

Insiders have speculated that Amanda Pritchard, Stevens’ deputy, and Sir James Mackey, the chief executive of the Northumbria NHS trust, are the two most likely internal candidates to succeed him.

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