Permanent secretary, DH. NEW ENTRY

The words “poisoned” and “chalice” might come to mind when considering the task ahead of the new permanent secretary at the DH. She will be responsible for keeping reforms on track and leading on public health across government, as well as providing the legislative, financial and policy framework for the NHS.

As the permanent secretary, Ms O’Brien is also a figurehead - and it’s not a happy ship on which she sails. DH civil servants are fearing for their jobs as programmes wind up and will be looking to her to implement the rationalisation fairly and logically.

Said to be bright (Oxford and Harvard educated) and thoughtful, her record so far indicates she may have the strength and stamina needed. During the past two decades she has held top jobs at the DH and other departments as well as in the NHS. Ms O’Brien was secretary to the Bristol inquiry from 1998 to 2001. In the 1980s, she helped to establish London Lighthouse, providing services for people with HIV/AIDS.