Former NHS director general Mark Britnell has been approached about the possibility of becoming the NHS Commissioning Board’s deputy chief executive, it has emerged.

The current deputy chief executive and chief operating officer Ian Dalton is due to leave at the end of April.

HSJ understands Mr Britnell, who left the DH in 2009 to become Europe head of health for KPMG, was approached over the operations director and deputy chief executive post in recent weeks. HSJ understands senior board staff have also had conversations with senior strategic health authority and acute sector figures about the role.

The news comes amid growing speculation about whether Sir David Nicholson, the board’s chief executive, can remain in the role. Mr Britnell - a high profile and senior figure - has previously been mooted as a possible successor to Sir David.

The Daily Mail, which has been campaigning for Sir David’s resignation, today claimed that Mr Britnell was being lined up as a future chief executive.

The commissioning board strenuously denied it had approached anyone in relation to the post of chief executive.

A spokesman said: “It is obviously completely wrong to suggest that the NHS Commissioning Board is ‘in the process of appointing a replacement’ to David Nicholson. This appears to have been made up by the Daily Mail.

“We would remind you of the chairman’s statement at last week’s board meeting.

“We are of course about to recruit a new Deputy CEO. But we have not yet decided how best to approach this. Therefore, no one has been interviewed and discussion about any individual is, at this stage, merely speculation.”

Several well placed sources said they believed Mr Britnell did not want the deputy chief executive role.

Any future decision to appoint Mr Britnell to be chief executive would be likely to be controversial and may be politically unpopular, because he is a management consultant and due to views about his involvement with the private sector.

Mr Britnell was at the centre of a high profile row in 2011, based on comments the previous year in which he allegedly told private firms the NHS “will be shown no mercy” in future, and that they were well placed to benefit.

Mr Britnell declined to comment.