Former NHS Commissioning Board chief operating officer Ian Dalton has ruled himself out of contention for the NHS England chief executive’s job.

In an exclusive HSJ interview − his first since joining technology giant BT in May − Mr Dalton said he was “committed” to his new role and was aiming to make the firm the country’s leading telehealth care service provider within two years.

The former NHS North of England chief executive said applicants from both inside and outside the health service should be considered to replace current NHS England chief executive Sir David Nicholson, who will step down by the end of March next year. However, he remained tight lipped over who he thought should be considered.

He staunchly backed the NHS’s record over the last decade, asserting that key parts of the health service had been “transformed”, although he conceded that its ierarchy should have engaged more consistently with patients and staff during the period when he was in the top team.  

Mr Dalton, president of global health at BT, said Sir David had done “an extraordinary job”.

“I have known David for many years. I have huge respect for him. He has achieved a lot on behalf of the NHS,” he added.  

He said he “did not have a view” on the timing of Sir David’s departure and declined to directly address whether or not the vociferous media coverage spearheaded by the Daily Mail had been justified.

Addressing whether Sir David should have taken any responsibility for the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust scandal, Mr Dalton said: “[Sir David] wasn’t the person closely running those particular parts of the health service.

“But at the end of the day everyone in senior positions in the health service at national level understands that there will be commentary on their leadership as well.”

He refused to single out individuals he thought were responsible, adding that “the [whole] system has a case to answer for [but that is] not the same as saying an individual who had responsibility for part of that system was accountable for it in a direct way”.

Mr Dalton said the new NHS England leadership needed to “be very inclusive and engage [staff] and [the] public”.

He added that there had been “some phenomenal examples” of the NHS’s “enthusiastic engagement” in the past, such as Lord Darzi’s review in 2008. However, he conceded it needed to be “a permanent process of empowerment and change” not just at a certain “point in time” as it had been in the past.

Outlining his priorities at BT, he said a big push would be made around its role as a provider of teleheath services, stating that in five years’ time telehealth would be seen as part of the “gold standard care pathway”.

The company has previously focused more on providing equipment than services so this is a significant strategic shift.

He said: “We don’t have a set number [of how many contracts we expect to win in the next two years] but what I can say is we would hope to be the largest provider of telehealth in the country.”