Jeremy Hunt has hired Sir Norman Williams, the immediate past president of the Royal College of Surgeons, as his senior clinical advisor.
It comes as the health secretary fights a high profile battle with some doctors and medical organisations over contracts and seven day services.
It is understood Sir Norman will advise on a wide range of clinical issues, but with a particular focus on Mr Hunt’s drive to expand and improve NHS services outside office hours. He is also an expert on, and champion of, patient safety, another focus of the health secretary.
Sir Norman took up the Department of Health role in recent weeks, it is understood. A spokesman for Mr Hunt confirmed the appointment today.
One source with knowledge of the appointment said Sir Norman would be able to advise on how policy and statements may be received by clinicians.
Mr Hunt currently faces the prospect of strike action by junior doctors, as the DH is proposing to impose a new employment contract, after the British Medical Association junior doctors committee declined to negotiate. Mr Hunt says a new contract is necessary to improve service quality out of hours.
Some medics and medical organisations have been critical of elements of Mr Hunt’s work on seven day services more generally.
Sir Norman worked with Mr Hunt on several projects while RCS president, carrying out reviews of candour and the European Working Time Directive. Since last year he has been chair of a Health Education England project on how patient safety is reflected in education and training.
Sir Norman was RCS president from 2011 to 2014 and was knighted in 2015’s new year honours. He is an honorary consultant at Barts Health Trust.