The must-read stories and debate in health policy and leadership.

The most important figure in NHS history since Nye Bevan. That is how our editor describes Sir Simon Stevens, who yesterday announced he would be stepping down as NHS England chief executive at the end of July after seven years in post. 

When he was appointed, we joked that he had the chance to save the NHS for the second time, but in fact he has done it three times, writes Alastair McLellan in his comment piece.

“The first was in the early 2000s, when as a highly proactive special adviser to health secretary Alan Milburn, and then to prime minister Tony Blair, the service saw more money and effective reform than at any time in its history.”

Sir Simon then stepped up to the plate again when, after becoming NHS England’s chief executive in April 2014, he rescued the service from the disaster of Lansley reforms, amid ongoing fallout from the financial crash. And the third time was of course during the pandemic, when he kept the service going, culminating in the “crowning glory” of the vaccination programme. Read more about Sir Simon’s successes, failures and the not always welcome impact he had on those he worked with, in Alastair’s piece.

Our coverage also includes Sir Simon’s message to staff, seen by HSJ, in which he wrote: “Having agreed last year to stay on to see us through the pandemic pressures, now seems like a good time to hand on the baton.”

Key milestones in his leadership have included the publication of the Five Year Forward View in 2014the current five-year funding deal and associated NHS Long-Term Plan in 2018-19, the merger with NHS Improvement and overhaul of their leadership, and responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Read our full career timeline here and find out who we consider the leading candidates to replace him here.

Pay pain

Current NHS Test and Trace chief information officer Simon Bolton has been named NHS Digital’s new interim chief executive following a search for outgoing CEO Sarah Wilkinson’s replacement.

NHS Digital confirmed the appointment on Thursday afternoon, but their press release did not quite tell the full story.

HSJ had already reported a month ago that Mr Bolton was the front-runner for the job, but things had gone somewhat quiet since then.

The delay – it turns out – was due to cross-government quibbling about Mr Bolton’s wage at NHS Digital.

A source told HSJ that Mr Bolton faced an effective pay cut if he accepted the NHS Digital job, because the executives at NHS Test and Trace were not subjected to the usual public sector pay rules when the team was being put together hastily last summer during the pandemic’s first wave.

HSJ was told the Treasury was “refusing to budge” on approving Mr Bolton accept the NHSD job on an “inflated wage”, and that the hold-up was “causing pain” between the organisations involved.

However, those issues now appear to have been resolved. NHS Digital told HSJ Mr Bolton’s salary would be reported in its annual accounts, which means it won’t be published until the summer of 2022.