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NHSE director for emergency planning to step down in March

NHS building

By Jess Hacker
18 January 2022

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Sir Keith Willett, NHS England’s director for emergency planning and incident response, will step down in two months.

In an internal email sent to staff, NHSE said he will move into a new role in April chairing South Central Ambulance Service Foundation Trust.

In the same announcement, NHSE confirmed its national strategic incident director for Covid-19, Mike Prentice, will lead on emergency preparedness.

Sir Keith joined the NHS Commissioning Board in 2012 when it launched – prior to its re-brand to NHSE – and is one of its longest-serving leaders.

He said: ‘I do need to thank so many people for all the support they have provided over so many years. It has been an enormous pleasure to work with you all.

‘Recent times have severely tested us and I’m acutely aware that so many in the NHS have given so much, and for some everything. The NHS is made up of people caring for people and it’s now time to recover ourselves and our services. I’m certainly not ready to retire so I’m delighted to be able to take my experiences to again help a frontline service.’

As director, Sir Keith had medical oversight of acute NHS services including emergency departments, acute medicine and national major incidents.

In 2018 he was appointed as strategic commander to prepare the NHS for the UK’s exit from the EU.

He was responsible for leading the NHS response to the coronavirus pandemic in England since the pandemic’s onset, and in June he took over leading the vaccine programme.

He was knighted last year in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

It comes a month after NICE appointed a former NHSE director as its incoming chief executive

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