Sir David Nicholson is now enough of an adopted southerner to have had his farewell drinks reception at St Thomas’s Hospital this week, and we made it onto the guest list.
That means we were treated to canapés and free drinks – including some presumably ironic bottles of London Pride. We were also subjected to a stupefyingly loud performance by a jazz combo featuring NHS England’s Tim Kelsey on bass and Roger Taylor from Dr Foster on keyboards.
Four of the five health secretaries from Sir David’s time in charge were there – only Andy Burnham was nowhere to be found. End Game proudly admits our heart did a little flip when we spotted the much missed former junior minister Simon Burns among the throng.
The highlight of the evening was Sir David’s own speech. He said his mentor once told him he would never go further than respectable middle management because of his “extraordinary and outlandish” sense of humour. He recited from the NHS Constitution, calling it “poetry”, referred to Dame Ruth Carnall as “the mother of the nation” and said the departing NHS England workforce chief Jo-Anne Wass was the “only remaining human” left on its board.
Sir David went on to note that 40 per cent of his time was spent stopping politicians doing “mad things”. Then, he recalled the indignity of being asked to hold a mirror up to a prime minister so they could comb their hair, and of being hit by a phone hurled by a cabinet member at an underling. Best of all, he said one health secretary once told him, after a long and detailed discussion on a matter of policy, “if you think I’m mad you should meet Michael Gove”.
“Long and detailed,” eh. Who could he possibly mean?