NHS England’s chief operating officer, Amanda Prichard, has been named as the first woman to lead the health service since it was established in 1948.
Pritchard, who has been COO as well as chief executive of NHS Improvement since 2019, will succeed Sir Simon Stevens as chief exec of NHS England on 1 August.
In her current role she has worked closely with Stevens as de facto deputy of the organisation, including on the implementation of the NHS Long Term Plan.
She was previously chief executive of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London. Earlier in her career, she spent a year as health team leader in the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit under Tony Blair’s New Labour administration.
The appointment comes after former NHS Test and Trace head Dido Harding said she was “thinking about” throwing her hat into the ring for the job.
“I have loved working in the NHS for the last three and a half years. It’s been the privilege of my life,” Baroness Harding, a Conservative peer and former head of NHS Improvement, said last month.
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, said Pritchard’s “experience and expertise mean she is perfectly placed” to lead the NHS as it continues to care for Covid patients while tackling treatment backlogs caused by the pandemic.
Pritchard said: “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 he had never been more proud to work in the health service than during the last 18 months as staff had responded “magnificently” to the pandemic.
“There are big challenges ahead as NHS staff continue to deal with significant pressures while maintaining the roll-out of the hugely successful NHS vaccination programme and tackle backlogs that have inevitably built up in the face of rising Covid infections,” she said.
“However 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.”