Paul Zollinger-Read, a key figure in the world of commissioning, will leave the NHS after more than 20 years to join Bupa as its group medical director, it was announced today.

He will be leaving his post as director of commissioning development for NHS Midlands and East strategic health authority to join Bupa in the summer.

Dr Zollinger-Read, who will be based at Bupa’s London HQ, told HSJ: “It’s going to be an immensely exciting opportunity. It wasn’t a positive wanting to leave the NHS; this opportunity came along.

“Bupa is a superb organisation and a majority of my focus will be abroad. Bupa has a new CEO and the team needs to look at its vision and develop its strategy and I’ll be involved in that.

“They weren’t looking to me because they are interested in getting work from the NHS. Most of it’s growth last year was from abroad and my role is very much a global position.”

The new appointment follows the retirement of Andrew Vallance-Owen, who has been with Bupa for 17 years.

Dr Zollinger-Read, a medical adviser and primary care lead for the King’s Fund, has previously been chief executive of five primary care trusts and a practising GP for over 20 years.

Speaking to HSJ after his departure from the NHS was announced, he urged commissioners to work harder to cross the line between different healthcare providers.

He said: “Relationships are everything. CCGs need to work hard at developing relationships across boundaries to transform care.

“Don’t focus purely on transitional, financial mechanisms. They need to work much closer with secondary care and community services to really drive change. The tribalism in the NHS has been around for too long.”

Dr Zollinger-Read studied medicine at Cambridge and started his career as a GP in Braintree in 1991. He has also worked with the NHS Modernisation Agency, Braintree Care Trust and served as chief executive of PCTs including Chelmsford; North East Essex; Great Yarmouth and Waveney; Cambridgeshire; and Peterborough.

Bupa chief executive Stuart Fletcher said: “I’m delighted to welcome Paul to Bupa - he brings a wealth of healthcare skill and experience to his new role. Paul will ensure we continue to develop and sustain our world class standards of clinical governance and practice, continuing Andrew’s excellent work and further strengthening our healthcare credentials.”