Simon Stevens, the former health adviser to Tony Blair, has been appointed NHS England’s new chief executive, HSJ can reveal.

He will take over from Sir David Nicholson on 1 April, the organisation is set to announce. He is currently the president of the global health division of UnitedHealth Group, the US-based health giant.

Simon Stevens

Simon Stevens

Mr Stevens was the prime minister’s health policy adviser from 2001 to 2004 and before that an adviser in the Department of Health from 1997. Prior to this he worked in the NHS for more than 10 years, including as group manager at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals, a general manager of mental health services in North Tyneside and Northumberland, and a director of primary care in two health authorities.

He was a key figure in Mr Blair’s drive to reform the health service through the introduction of national service standards and waiting time targets, the creation of foundation trusts and the extension of competition, choice and the use of independent providers.

At UnitedHealth he is currently responsible for the organisation’s huge international operations, and overseeing its work on health services and funding reform in the US.

Mr Stevens said in a statement: “The next five years are going to be extremely challenging for the NHS, but compassionate high quality care for all is as vital as ever.

“It will be a privilege to lead NHS England – at a time when the stakes have never been higher – because I believe in the NHS, and because I believe that a broad new partnership of patients, carers, staff and the public can together chart a successful future for our health service.”

NHS England chair Sir Malcolm Grant, who has led the search for the new chief executive, said: “I am delighted that Simon will be taking on this exceptionally challenging leadership role for the NHS. He has huge experience, both national and global, and across all sectors, and is admired by healthcare professionals across the world for his commitment to the values of the NHS and to the provision of quality healthcare for all.”

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “Simon has an extraordinary reputation in the UK and abroad as a reformer and an innovator, and we are lucky to have someone of his calibre doing such a vital role. He will make a key contribution to the two biggest challenges facing the NHS right now: how to raise standards of care and also be financially sustainable. His passion for our universal health service free at the point of use goes back many years, but he will add international expertise as we face the challenges ahead.”

The statement said Mr Stevens had “asked to take a voluntary 10 per cent pay cut for the year ahead” in comparison to Sir David’s salary. He will be paid £189,900.