NHS England’s chairman has said the organisation is embarking upon a global search for a new chief executive.

Malcolm Grant spoke about the appointment of a successor to Sir David Nicholson at the NHS Confederation conference in Liverpool.

“We are prepared to go to someone outside the NHS,” Professor Grant said. “Absolutely we’ll do a global search.”

He indicated that the organisation had been inspired by chancellor’s choice of former Canadian bank governor Mark Carney to run the Bank of England.

“We’ve seen recently the government choose the go global in the search for the governor for the Bank of England. This is at least as important as that,” Professor Grant said.

Speaking about the criteria the organisation would use to select a successor, he continued: “It’s going to be very difficult to fill David’s shoes. The obvious criteria [we’re searching on] are an ability to walk on water and survive political furores.”

Professor Grant was also questioned on NHS England’s relationship with health secretary Jeremy Hunt, describing it as “warm, but not intimate”.