Former Test and Trace chief Dido Harding has applied to become the next head of the NHS.
Current chief executive Sir Simon Stevens will stand down at the end of July, creating a vacancy for a post that often has more power than most Cabinet ministers.
The Tory peer’s move emerged in a new updated biography of her on the NHS England website, which stated she had stepped aside from her position as chair of NHS Improvement pending her application.
The ex-Talk Talk telecoms boss hit the headlines throughout the Covid pandemic when she was appointed by health secretary Matt Hancock, without competition, to run the much-criticised £37bn Test and Trace programme.
Harding was appointed last summer and finally stepped down from the role this April, reverting to her NHS Improvement post only.
Test and Trace was this year criticised by the Commons Public Accounts Committee, which said there was “no clear evidence” it contributed to a reduction in coronavirus infection levels.
Although several NHS officials are expected to go for the top job, Harding’s Tory links plus her lack of experience running hospitals would make her appointment highly controversial.
Harding’s updated biography on the NHS England website states: “Dido has applied to become the next CEO of the NHS and has therefore stood aside as chair of NHS Improvement whilst the recruitment process takes place. Sir Andrew Morris is standing in for her during this time.”
According to the NHS England annual report for 2019/20, the chief executive salary was between £195,000 and £200,000.
Until Thursday, Harding had only said she was “thinking about” applying for the NHS chief executive job.
She was made a Tory peer by David Cameron, a fellow Oxford contemporary, and is married to Tory MP and former minister John Penrose.
Shadow health minister Justin Madders told HuffPost UK: “I would hope that all candidates applications are judged on the basis of their recent performance in public sector roles, which in her case speaks for itself, failing which Dominic Cummings WhatsApp ought to provide a candid assessment”