The Department for Education's permanent secretary Chris Wormald is to move to lead the Department for Health, it has been announced, the latest in a series of changes at the top of Whitehall.
Wormald was appointed DfE perm sec in March 2012 after stints at the Cabinet Office, the Department for Local Government, and as principal private secretary to New Labour ministers Estelle Morris and Charles Clarke.
He will take over from Dame Una O'Brien at the DH when she steps down at the end of April.
Department of Health perm sec Una O'Brien: "2016 will be about getting NHS finances in better shape while protecting quality"
Department for Education permanent secretary Chris Wormald: "We've already made significant progress on our manifesto commitments"
In a statement published on Friday, Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood said Wormald had done a "superb job" at the DfE.
"He will bring a wealth of leadership, implementation and policy experience to the role at the Department of Health and a great understanding of public services. I look forward to working with him on the challenges ahead for the department.
Heywood added: "I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Una for her enormous contribution to the civil service over the past 25 years."
Wormald said it would be a "privilege and an honour" to join the Department of Health, adding: "I’m very excited by the opportunity to work on the many important challenges the department deals with.
"I’m looking forward to working with the ministerial team, the staff of the department and its many partners as we implement the government’s ambitious agenda over the course of the parliament."
Education secretary Nicky Morgan heaped praise on Wormald, saying he had played "a crucial role in major reforms to restore rigour to exams, transform the school system with academies and free schools, and to support the most vulnerable children" during his time at the DfE.
Meanwhile, O'Brien said the announcement of her successor was "great news for the department and the wider health and care system".
Wormald faces a formidable in-tray at the DH, with the latest figures from regulators Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority – published in November – showing that 156 out of 239 of the NHS's English trusts were now in deficit. The department is also currently involved in a dispute with junior doctors over proposed changes to their contracts, which this week saw the first walkout by medics in four decades.
His departure from the DfE triggers a hunt for a successor, with two other high-profile civil service jobs – HMRC chief executive and Treasury permanent secretary – also awaiting new appointments following the announced exits of Dame Lin Homer and Nick Macpherson respectively. CSW is awaiting confirmation on whether Wormald will retain his role as head of the civil service policy profession when he makes the move to the DH.
Speaking to CSW before the announcement of her departure, O'Brien set out what she saw as the health department's top priorities for 2016. "Getting NHS finances in better shape and doing so while protecting quality has to be number one," she said.
"A close second will be making progress on shifting care outside hospital. Prevention needs more attention – and we all need to think about the one thing we could do to strengthen our health and wellbeing in 2016."