The incoming NHS boss has said she is “honoured” to be appointed the first female leader in the history of the health service in England.
Amanda Pritchard is to become the new chief executive of the NHS in England on Sunday when Lord Stevens steps down.
Ms Pritchard, who has worked as chief operating officer for the last two years, said that the “can do” attitude of NHS staff would help the health service overcome some of the challenges it faces – including a third wave of Covid-19 and an unprecedented backlog of care, with more than five million on the waiting list.
Speaking to reporters at University College Hospital London, she said: “I’m really proud to have been appointed as chief executive of the NHS, at what I think is a really critical time.”
Ms Pritchard said the NHS and its “amazing staff” had done an “astonishing job” throughout the pandemic, but acknowledged there are some “big challenges” facing the health service.
She said: “We have pressures today, but also of course designing now a vaccine booster programme for autumn, and really focusing on tackling the waiting times that have inevitably built up over the Covid pandemic.
“But I think the incredible skill, dedication, can-do approach that the NHS and its astonishing staff have shown over the last 18 months gives me real confidence that we will come together to bring the same determination, the same skill to tackling today’s challenges.”
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.
Ms Pritchard said she is “thrilled” to be the first woman to head the health service in England, and pledged to ensure diversity and inclusion are at the “core” of the NHS.
She said: “I’m thrilled to have been appointed as the first woman leader of the NHS. For an NHS which is 75% women, it’s a particular honour.
“But I would say that I think it is the diversity of the NHS that really makes it very special.
“So, really delighted to represent women, but very keen to make sure that the NHS continues to be somewhere that embraces diversity and inclusion at its core.”
Meanwhile she said that getting a coronavirus jab is the best thing people can do to protect themselves and those around them.
Asked whether it is selfish, in the words of Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, not to take up the offer of a vaccine, she said: “We absolutely can see that the vaccine programme is making a huge impact, it is saving lives.
“So I think we would say it remains the single thing you can do to best protect yourself, to protect those around you and those you love, is to get a vaccination if you haven’t already taken the opportunity to do so.”
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.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Amanda brings an unparalleled wealth and depth of experience, having worked in the NHS for nearly 25 years, and at this crucial moment for our country frontline staff will value her operational experience and steady hand.
“I look forward to working closely with Amanda on the challenges ahead, and am delighted we are appointing the first woman to the post in NHS history.
“I know she will support the NHS and its workforce of over a million people, and ensure the best possible care for our nation as we move forwards from this pandemic, and for many more years to come.”
Ms Pritchard has held a number of key roles across the health service, including running the busy London trust Guy’s and St Thomas’ and as chief executive of NHS Improvement.
As chief operating officer of NHS England she was in charge of the operational performance of the health service as well as implementation of service transformation and improvements in patient care.
Ms Pritchard joined the NHS through the graduate management training scheme in 1997.
She also served as a health team leader in the Cabinet Office’s delivery unit.
In her new role, Ms Pritchard will be in charge of the NHS’s annual budget of around £130 billion and the service’s 1.2 million staff.
Tory peer Dido Harding applied for the job, as did KPMG’s Mark Britnell.
NHS England announced in April that current chief executive Lord Stevens was to stand down “as planned” at the end of July.
According to the NHS England annual report for 2019/20, the chief executive salary was between £195,000 and £200,000.
Commenting on the appointment, the chief executive of the NHS Providers organisation Chris Hopson said the wider NHS will “strongly welcome” Ms Pritchard’s appointment.
“Over the last two years, trust leaders have welcomed Amanda’s calm, team oriented and effective national operational leadership of the NHS through one of the most challenging periods in its history,” he said.
“She has a deep and strong connection with NHS frontline leaders and staff which will be much needed given the scale of the challenge ahead.
“It is also particularly pleasing to see a female NHS chief executive appointed for the first time in the service’s 73-year history.”
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “She will hit the ground running when Lord Stevens leaves.
“This role is arguably the most significant across the entire public sector and with a new Secretary of State getting up to speed, this continuity at the top of the NHS will be vital.”