Mark Britnell, who has been considered one of the leading contenders to become the next NHS England chief executive, has said he has not applied for the role.

It had been widely speculated that Mr Britnell, formerly NHS director general of commissioning and currently global chairman of health at the consultancy KPMG, would apply for the post.

KPMG said in a statement to HSJ today: “Mark Britnell is global chairman for our successful health practice, which continues to grow. He has not applied for the NHS England position.”

Separately, speaking at the Foundation Trust Network conference yesterday, the NHS England chair Sir Malcolm Grant said he hoped to announce an appointment before the end of the year. He repeated his past statement that there would be a “global” search. HSJ understands some senior figures in the organisation are expecting an announcement in the next few weeks.

Others who have been subject to speculation about taking the role have included Simon Stevens, a vice president of US insurer UnitedHealth and a health adviser to Tony Blair when he was prime minister; Public Health England chief executive Duncan Selbie; and Macmillan Cancer Support chief executive Ciaran Devane, who is also currently an NHS England non-executive director.

All the current NHS England executive directors have ruled themselves out of applying. However, well placed sources have said one of these individuals could well be asked to take on the chief executive role on an interim basis if no substantive candidate was appointed in the near future. In those circumstances, NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh and interim deputy chief executive Dame Barbara Hakin would be the most likely candidates.

Sir David Nicholson is due to retire from the post by March next year.