Who's who in UK Health?


Do you know who the Chief Medical officer is?  Would you recognise ministers responsible for the NHS? Here is a beginner’s guide to some famous names in the NHS. 

Dr Jenny Price (ST6)

Parliament is responsible for approving legislation within which the health service operates.   It holds the Department of Health to account for their spending of taxpayers’ money and the operation of the National Health Service.  This accountability is supported by the National Audit Office, which reports to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of public funds.  

Within Parliament the Secretary of State for Health has ultimate responsibility for the provision of a comprehensive health service in England and ensuring the whole system works together to try and meet the needs of patients.  Jeremy Hunt was appointed to this role in September 2012.  Since devolution he is mainly responsible for the NHS in England and therefore health policies can vary in Wales and Scotland.  Dan Poulter, Anna Soubry and Frederick Curzon (7th Earl Howe) are the Parliamentary under secretaries in the Department of Health.  This means they are more junior to the Secretary of State for Health and they each have a specific area of interest within the NHS e.g. Public Health.

The Permanent secretary is the most senior civil servant of a department, and runs the department on a day-to day basis this is currently Una O’Brien.  The civil servants act as non-political members of the department.  This offers some stability even if the political secretaries of state, who they report to and advise, changes. 

Since 2006 a separate position of Chief Executive of the NHS has existed this is Sir David Nicholson.   His job title has now become Chief Executive of NHS England, which took up its full powers from April 2013.  His background is in NHS Management.  NHS England is the new name for NHS Commissioning board and its role is to provide national leadership working alongside clinical commissioning groups to hopefully drive up the quality of care. 

Another key figure is the National Medical Director who is Professor Bruce Keogh – called so because he was previously a Professor in Cardiothoracic surgery. His responsibilities have changed slightly in recent changes within the NHS as the NHS Medical Directorate closed.  Previously his role included working closely with the pharmaceutical industry, working with other organisations such as the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) and overseeing postgraduate medical education.  The responsibilities for the pharmaceutical industry and medical education, for doctors, dentists, and pharmacists have remained in the Department of Health but the other functions have now transferred to the new NHS Commissioning Board.

The Chief Medical Officer is a civil servant and member of the NHS Board.  This is a historical role that has existed since Victorian times when they helped prevent Cholera epidemics.  Professor Sally Davies has been in this post since 2010 and prior to this she worked as a Consultant Haematologist.


Medical Leadership Comeptency Framework Curriculum: Managing Services: Planning: Knowledge (3:1).


1.     http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/thenhs/about/Pages/nhsstuctures.aspx

2.     https://www.gov.uk/government/organisation/department-of-health