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NHS England to be led by woman for first time as continuity candidate takes charge

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England’s health service will be led by a woman for the first time in its history after Amanda Pritchard was appointed as the first female chief executive of NHS England.

Ms Pritchard, who has worked in the NHS for almost 25 years since studying at Oxford University, will replace the departing Lord Simon Stevens in the health service’s top role from next month.

As NHS chief executive, Ms Pritchard will be responsible for an annual budget of more than £130bn and oversees a workforce of around 1.5 million people – one of the largest employers in the world.

The role of chief executive in the NHS in England was first created in 1985 and it is the first time that a woman has been given the title.

Sir Simon Stevens
Image: Lord Simon Stevens has spent seven years as NHS England chief executive

Ms Pritchard takes on the top role after serving for two years as the health service’s chief operating officer – effectively Sir Simon’s deputy.

Her appointment has been viewed as giving the NHS a continuity of leadership as it recovers from the COVID pandemic.

Dido Harding, the former head of NHS Test and Trace, was among other candidates for the role but she lost a key ally when disgraced former health secretary Matt Hancock resigned after being found to have breached COVID restrictions.

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Ms Pritchard admitted there were “big challenges” facing her as hospitals continue to deal with “significant pressures”, while the NHS also continues the COVID vaccination programme and deals with treatment backlogs as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

But Ms Pritchard said the “skill, determination and ‘can do’ spirit that NHS staff have shown in the face of the greatest challenge in the health service’s history means we face the future with confidence”.

“I am honoured to lead the NHS, particularly as the first woman chief executive of an organisation whose staff are more than three quarters female,” she said.

“I have always been incredibly proud to work in the health service but never more so than over the last 18 months as nurses, doctors, therapists, paramedics, pharmacists, porters, cleaners and other staff have responded so magnificently to the COVID pandemic.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I am delighted Amanda has been appointed the new NHS chief executive, the first woman in the history of the health service to hold this post.

“This is a critical moment for the NHS as it continues to care for COVID patients whilst tackling treatment backlogs caused by the pandemic.

“Amanda’s experience and expertise mean she is perfectly placed to address these issues and more, and I look forward to working closely with her.

“I want to again thank Lord Stevens for his dedicated service and leadership for the past seven years – especially when facing the extraordinary pressures of the pandemic, and for his huge contribution to our vaccine rollout.”

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Lord Stevens, a friend of Mr Johnson while the pair were at Oxford University, announced in April that he would step down as NHS chief executive – a role he took on in 2014.

Ms Pritchard, a married mother-of-three, began her NHS career as a graduate management trainee in 1997 and has also previously been chief executive of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust in London.

She attended school in County Durham before studying at Oxford.