this week

Health organisations and managers are quietly celebrating behind-the-scenes moves in Whitehall that put experienced health policy experts at the heart of government.

Chris Ham, former director of the health services management centre at Birmingham University, with more than 20 years' experience in health policy and academia, takes on the directorship of the strategy unit at the Department of Health.

The five-strong unit in Richmond House will work across the whole ministerial team, though Professor Ham's remit will require him to work closely with the secretary of state on policy development.

Professor Ham has been on secondment to the strategy unit since last year and during his time at the HSMC had been a prominent supporter of NHS management.

Despite his recent move to number 10 as health policy adviser to the prime minister, Simon Stevens, former policy adviser to health secretary Alan Milburn, is expected to retain close links with the Department of Health.

This should ensure that Alan Milburn and prime minister Tony Blair - who has been keen to take personal responsibility for some key health policy announcements - 'sing from the same hymn sheet'.

Mr Stevens joined the NHS as a management trainee and held senior management posts in hospital trusts and a health authority before joining the DoH.

One senior manager told HSJ: 'We are sorry Simon Stevens has gone from the DoH because he combined excellent political sense with a detailed understanding of how the NHS works - but now he'll be able to bring a pragmatic approach and continuity to his role in Downing Street. '

A new special adviser to Alan Milburn is yet to be appointed, but it is thought that with the extensive health backgrounds of Mr Stevens and Professor Ham as well as the prime minister's new political secretary, Robert Hill, the appointee may be someone with a broader policy background. .