The National Patient Safety Agency has put off its search for a new chief executive amid a Department of Health clampdown on senior appointments at arm’s length bodies.

The top job at the agency has been empty since former chief executive Martin Fletcher left last December to return to his native Australia. Sarndrah Horsfall has been interim chief executive since his departure.

The NPSA said the search for a new chief executive has been put on hold until the Appointments Commission has found a replacement for the agency’s chair Lord Naren Patel, who is due to retire in June.

A spokesperson for the agency said it was “felt appropriate” that the search for a chief executive should involve the new chair. “Once a new chairman has been appointed, we will then begin the search for a permanent chief executive,” he said.

The move comes as the Department of Health continues a review of the all the government’s arm’s length bodies, including the NPSA, looking at how they function and where their work can be best carried out at less cost. Savings of a fifth are being mooted.

The review will look at the transparency of the organisations, governance and pay, and where efficiency savings can be made.

The DH said it was unable to comment on whether the NPSA is under review, but HSJ has learned that while bodies are being reviewed they have been told they are not allowed to appoint to chief executive level.

A spokesperson for the DH said: “We have just begun this comprehensive review and will confirm the timetable in due course. While the review is underway, appointments to senior posts will be looked at on a “case by case basis”.

  • HSJ and sister title Nursing Times’ Patient Safety Congress is in London on 25-26 May. This year’s Congress will focus on how to ensure financial sustainability of patient safety within your organisation, www.patientsafetycongress.co.uk