David Nicholson is the only NHS candidate on the shortlist for chief executive of the service, HSJunderstands. Other figures being interviewed this week include leaders of UK and US private health companies.

David Nicholson is the only NHS candidate on the shortlist for chief executive of the service, HSJunderstands. Other figures being interviewed this week include leaders of UK and US private health companies.

London strategic health authority chief executive Mr Nicholson, former head of Birmingham and the Black Country SHA, was due to be interviewed this week.

Ken Kizer, undersecretary of the US Department of Veterans Affairs from 1995-99, and since then chair, then chief executive officer of US healthcare information company Medsphere, is also on the shortlist.

And HSJunderstands that Ian Smith, chief executive of UK independent health provider General Healthcare Group since September 2004, has also made it through to final interviews.

The list is understood to contain four candidates in total.

Dr Kizer's successor at the US Department of Veterans Affairs, Dr Jonathan B. Perlin, was also understood to have applied for the role, but last Wednesday announced he would be taking up a new position running Nashville-based healthcare provider HCA. There have also been persistent rumours that Dr Don Berwick, chief executive officer of the Boston-based Institute for Healthcare Improvement, was on the list, but a spokesperson said Dr Berwick did not believe this to be the case.

Three prominent NHS candidates did not make the list: North West SHA chief executive Mike Farrar, NHS director of provider development Andrew Cash and Guy's and St Thomas' foundation trust chief executive Professor Sir Jonathan Michael.

Health secretary Patricia Hewitt briefed the shortlisted candidates last week. The civil service commissioners said the 'unusual' move was explained by the change in the accountability in the role, which will be split from that of permanent secretary. The shortlisted candidates were interviewed on Monday and Tuesday and ministers can interview the preferred candidate before they are recommended to the prime minister for approval.

A decision could be made before Parliament rises on 25 July. Failing that, any announcement would be delayed until the return of Parliament in September. Some HSJ sources speculated that the government would be 'relaxed' in the event that it failed to make any appointment, leaving acting chief executive Sir Ian Carruthers in charge for longer.

The panel includes outgoing Royal College of Physicians president Professor Dame Carol Black, former NHS chief executive Sir Alan Langlands, Cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell, HM revenue and customs chair Sir David Varney and first civil service commissioner Janet Paraskeva.

The Department of Health has said recruitment for a permanent secretary, a post filled on an acting basis by Hugh Taylor, will begin once a chief executive has been named.

HSJtried to contact all the candidates, but none was available.