Sir David Nicholson’s announcement of his retirement follows several months of intense criticism and scrutiny of his leadership, and his role in relation to the Mid Staffordshire care failures.

The publication of the Francis report into Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust was followed by a string of front page articles in national newspapers criticising the NHS England chief executive.

There have also been protests by the Mid Staffordshire action group Cure the NHS, which has demanded Sir David’s sacking.

He was dubbed “The Man with No Shame” by the Daily Mail, which also highlighted the use of gagging clauses against whistleblowers, and linked the issue to Sir David.

The former strategic health authority chief executive also faced intense questioning by two Parliamentary committees over these issues in a period of a few days.

Source: Peter Searle

In January Nicholson told HSJ he hoped to hold his new position for “the next few years”

He has also been threatened with an attempt by a private individual to being a private criminal prosecution for corporate manslaughter in relation to his links to Stafford.

Sir David was chief executive of Shropshire and Staffordshire Strategic Health Authority, which oversaw the Mid Staffordshire Trust, from August 2005.

He was the lead officer ahead of the creation of the new West Midlands SHA until 2006 when he took over at NHS London before becoming chief executive of the NHS in September that year.

When he appeared before the public inquiry, Sir David accepted the NHS had been too focused on finances and not quality at that time. He said he had since addressed this, particularly in work with Lord Darzi on the 2008 High Quality Care for All plan.

The Francis inquiry heard that Sir David instructed the trust to break even in October 2005. That was shortly before the trust announced plans to save £10m and axe approximately 160 posts, while it was already understaffed.

Robert Francis QC’s report did not single out any individuals for blame over Mid Staffordshire, and instead highlighted a widespread failure of the NHS culture and system, although his findings appeared to point to particular people’s roles.

Mr Francis also concluded there was no evidence of a bullying culture at the Department of Health.

Prime minister David Cameron, health secretary Jeremy Hunt, and the Labour party all publicly backed Sir David after the report’s publication. However, he faced attacks from some backbench MPs.

Speaking ahead of the Francis report in January, Sir David told HSJ he believed he should survive any criticism levelled at him, and he hoped to hold his new position for “the next few years”. He added: “I can see a whole load of things that I need to do.”

Following the report’s publication Sir David apologised over the failures at Mid Staffs but had said he planned to carry on in his role.

Exclusive: David Nicholson to leave by March 2014