The Scottish Government has announced that Paul Gray, director general of health and social care and chief executive of NHS Scotland, will step down in February.
Gray has been the top civil servant for healthcare in Scotland since December 2013, and has led the integration of its health and social care service, which took place in 2016 after a year of shadow running.
Speaking to CSW in an interview to mark the 70th anniversary of the creation of the NHS, Gray said the integration represented “the biggest transformational change of delivering health and care services that this country has seen for decades”.
He added: “I would say that a key benefit of having the role as it is has been that the responsibility for health and social care integration has not been regarded as a separate entity, and the issue I think we now need to tackle is ensuring that we have the senior leaders from all of the sectors that are involved in health and social care integration, together with one set of objectives and a common purpose.”
He told CSW that integration of health and care – which is key to the health service’s future – was at the toddler stage of development when compared to the health service.
“I’m often telling people that although we are at the 70th anniversary for the NHS we’ve had two years of health and social care integration.
"[When] people tell me it is not yet perfect, I ask them to give us the other 68 years, although I don’t expect it to take that long, I genuinely don’t,” he said.
He added: “I think there has been serious progress in health and social care integration, but let’s allow that progress to bed in rather than taking the stance that it is not yet perfect and therefore there must be something wrong with it. There’s a great deal that is working very well.”
Gray reflected that his role at the head of the health service is different from his previous civil service posts, which have included being director general of rural affairs, environment and services, and DG governance and communities.
“The operational element is significant,” he said. “It’s not that we don’t have other policy delivery areas, but the NHS in Scotland employs 163,000 people – it is a pretty substantial operation.
“So the real distinctiveness about my role, and one of the key elements of it, is finding the right balance in ensuring that I attend to the corporate responsibilities I have as a member of the corporate board of the Scottish Government while also attending to the corporate responsibilities I have as the chief executive of the National Health Service, and it is important to keep these things in balance.”
Announcing Gray's departure, Scottish Government health secretary Jeane Freeman said there would be a full external competition to appoint his successor. Malcolm Wright, the current chief executive of the NHS Tayside health board, has been appointed to the role on an interim basis.
Freeman said: “Paul Gray has been an excellent chief executive of the NHS in Scotland and director general of health and social care.
“Amongst his many achievements in this role, which was just the most recent in a long and distinguished career in public service, Paul oversaw the integration of health and social care services, which is the most significant change to our health system since the creation of the NHS.
“Paul will remain in post until February, continuing to lead health boards throughout the winter months. I would like to offer him my sincere and personal thanks for his work over the last five years, and my best wishes for the future contribution I know he will make.”