Una O’Brien to leave Department of Health

Permanent secretary announces she is to step down from her role after 25 years in the civil service

By Suzannah.Brecknell

14 Dec 2015

[Update, 9/2/15: Apologies to some CSW e-mail subscribers who may have been wrongly directed to this page after following a link on the Civil Service Compensation Scheme. Full info & reaction is here]

Dame Una O’Brien, permanent secretary at the Department of Health, has announced she will leave the department next year.

O’Brien joined the department in 1990 and became permanent secretary in 2010.

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She said: “It has been and remains a huge privilege to work with so many talented and skilled colleagues at the Department of Health, with our national partner organisations, the NHS and beyond.    

“Over the last parliament, we implemented important changes to make a positive impact on people’s lives. As we plan for the next phase of change in the department and the wider health and care system, with the spending review complete and the government's plans for the Parliament set out, I feel the time will be right, next April, for me to leave."

“My successor will be arriving at a good time to take on leadership of change in the department and the implementation of Ministers’ agendas through to 2020. And I am confident that the excellent public servants in the Department of Health, applying this experience, will be highly capable of their role in ensuring that the health and care system continues to improve in the years ahead.”

Before becoming permanent secretary, O’Brien was director general of policy and strategy. Earlier in her civil service career, she worked in the prime minister's efficiency unit, and she was also lead civil servant on the Bristol/Kennedy Inquiry, a seminal public inquiry into NHS heart surgery.

Sir Jeremy Heywood, cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, said: “I am hugely grateful to Una for all that she has done over the last 25 years in the civil service, and in the last five  in particular where she has expertly led the Department of Health. Una has also made an enormous contribution to the wider leadership of the civil service, including on important issues such as talent and diversity, for which I am hugely grateful. I wish Una all the very best in the next phase of her career. We will miss her.”

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said O’Brienhas been at the centre of real and lasting improvements in the NHS, so her consistently wise advice will be much missed".

Prior to working in the civil service Dame Una was a researcher on Northern Ireland for two MPs. In the 1980s, she also helped establish London Lighthouse, a pioneering third sector provider of services for people with HIV and AIDS.

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