David Nicholson (civil servant)

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David Nicholson

Sir David Nicholson, KCB, CBE is a public policy analyst, Chair of Worcestershire acute hospitals NHS trust and NHS manager who was Chief Executive of the National Health Service in England.[1] He was appointed in October 2011 following the NHS reforms, having been seventh Chief executive of the NHS within the Department of Health since September 2006. He issued what has become known as the "Nicholson challenge" regarding the finances of the NHS. He retired from the role on 1 April 2014.[2]


Nicholson was educated at Forest Fields Grammar School in Nottingham, and graduated from Bristol Polytechnic (now known as the University of the West of England) with a 2:1 in History and Politics.

He joined the Communist Party of Great Britain after graduation,[3][4] and remained a member of the party until 1983.[3]


Early career[edit]

Nicholson joined the NHS as a graduate trainee.[3]

For 10 years he worked in mental health, mainly in Yorkshire, where he was involved in implementing the policy of closing the old asylums and developing care in the community services.[3]

Acute hospitals[edit]

In 1988, Nicholson moved into the acute hospital sector, appointed as the Chief executive of the Doncaster and Montague NHS Hospitals Trust, a first-wave NHS trust brought in under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He introduced Clinical Directorates there in 1988 and the Trust was a national pilot for Total Quality Management. Under his leadership the Trust promised all staff "a job for life, it may not be the job you are doing now, but you have a job for life with this trust". The promise was printed in various Trust documents including the "Strategic Direction". In 1997, he moved to the Trent NHS Regional Office as the Regional Director of Performance before being appointed as Regional Director in November 2000.[3]

Nicholson was then made Regional Director for the old Eastern and West Midlands Regions between December 2001 and March 2002, combining these responsibilities with his Trent role whilst shadowing as Director of Health and Social Care (designate) for the Midlands and East of England. In April 2002 he formally took up the post of Director of Health and Social Care for the Midlands and East of England.[3]

In 2003, he was appointed Chief executive of Birmingham and The Black Country Strategic Health Authority (BBC SHA). In August 2005 he was asked to take on the additional roles of Chief executive of neighbouring West Midlands South SHA and the Shropshire and Staffordshire SHA,[3] during the period of the Stafford Hospital scandal.

In April 2006, he was appointed Chief executive of the newly formed London Strategic Health Authority. However he had little opportunity to make his mark, as it was announced on 27 July 2006 that he would be taking up the role of NHS Chief executive in September 2006 in charge of a £90bn budget and 1.3m employees,[5] his fifth job-change in a year.[3][4]


Sir David was chief executive of the West Midlands Strategic Health Authority, the strategic health authority overseeing the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust for a period when death rates were found to be high. Managers were too focused on finances and achieving targets, the then regulator, the Healthcare Commission found.[6]

Sir David issued a full apology, saying "I apologise to them on behalf of the NHS as a whole and for the fact that those patients, relatives and carers found themselves in the position where they not only had terrible things happen to them but the very organisation they looked to for support let them down in the most devastating of ways."[7]

Nonetheless campaigners whose family members died unnecessarily at the Stafford hospital have called for his resignation[8] and the national newspaper Daily Mail has orchestrated[9] a campaign describing him as "the man with no shame."[10] [11] An early day motion by Bristol MP Charlotte Leslie in February 2013 calling for Nicholson's resignation[12] was supported by 20 MPs from both the ruling coalition Conservative party and the opposition Labour party.[13]

Chief executive of NHS (2006–2014)[edit]

Nicholson became the seventh NHS Chief executive in September 2006.

In October 2011, he was appointed Chief executive of the NHS Commissioning Board Special Health Authority,[14] a transitional body established in shadow form to set up the eventual NHS Commissioning Board. Its role is to make all the necessary preparations for the successful establishment of the NHS Commissioning Board (NHS CB) in April 2013. In the meantime, all current NHS planning and delivery responsibilities still remain with the Department of Health, strategic health authorities and primary care trusts. The NHS Commissioning Board was renamed 'NHS England' on 1 April 2013.

In September 2011, the Daily Telegraph revealed that Nicholson claimed expenses of over £50,000 a year on top of a basic salary of £200,000 and benefits in kind of £37,600 at a time when he was asking the health service to make cuts of £20 billion by 2015.[15] His claim was three times an MP's accommodation allowance.[15]

In May 2013 it was announced in advance that Nicholson would be retiring in March 2014 from his post as Chief executive of NHS England.[16]

He was appointed interim Chair of Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust in May 2018.[17] He was later appointed to the role of Chair on a permeant basis during December 2018.


He was appointed chairman of the newly-established State Health Services Organisation in Cyprus in 2018.[18]

Personal life[edit]

He is divorced from his first wife; their family home was in Harrogate, and the couple have two sons.[citation needed] He is presently married to Sarah-Jane Marsh, who was a former intern on the NHS-graduate scheme, and became Chief executive of Birmingham Children's Hospital in 2009.[19][20] While Nicholson lives in London, his wife lives at the family home with their daughter in Broome, Worcestershire.[21]

Nicholson is a passionate supporter of Nottingham Forest Football Club.


Nicholson was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2004 New Year Honours. He received an honorary Doctorate from University of Central England, Birmingham.[22] He was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in the 2010 New Year Honours.[23]


  1. ^ NHS Commissioning Board: Who's Who – Retrieved 13 May 2012 http://www.commissioningboard.nhs.uk/whos-who/
  2. ^ NHS England. "Sir David Nicholson Announces Plan to Retire from NHS".
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h John Carvel (13 September 2006). "Right on with reform". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 October 2009.
  4. ^ a b Private Eye, 27 October 2006, p. 10.
  5. ^ Weaver, Matthew (27 July 2006). "New NHS chief appointed". Guardian Unlimited Politics. London. Retrieved 27 July 2006.
  6. ^ Smith, Rebecca (31 January 2013). "Health Editor". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 31 January 2013.
  7. ^ Smith, Rebecca (31 January 2013). "Medical Editor". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 31 January 2013.
  8. ^ Bailey, Julie (6 February 2013). "Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust (Society),NHS (Society),Health (Society),Society,UK news". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 6 February 2013.
  9. ^ White, Michael (1 March 2013). "Sacking Nicholson would be worse for the NHS". Local Government Chronicle.
  10. ^ Bond, Anthony; Tozer, James (28 February 2013). "Health campaigners show their anger as under-fire NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson is given vote of confidence by board members". Daily Mail. London.
  11. ^ Borland, Sophie; Tozer, James; Shipman, Tim; Levy, Andrew (28 February 2013). "Grieving families walk out in fury as the man with no shame snubs them: NHS chief is backed by the only people who can sack him". Daily Mail. London.
  12. ^ Meikle, James (28 February 2013). "NHS commissioning board backs David Nicholson despite Mid Staffs scandal". The Guardian. London.
  13. ^ "Early day motion 1096". House of Commons.
  14. ^ NHS Commissioning Board Special Health Authority http://www.commissioningboard.nhs.uk/
  15. ^ a b Martin Beckforth (5 September 2011). "Head of NHS claimed £50,000 a year for flat". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  16. ^ Health Service Journal 21-May-13: Exclusive: David Nicholson to retire in March 2014 http://www.hsj.co.uk/news/exclusive-david-nicholson-to-retire-in-march-2014/5058957.article?blocktitle=Latest-News&contentID=7827
  17. ^ "Sir David Nicholson joins troubled trust's leadership team". Health Service Journal. 11 May 2018. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
  18. ^ "Our View: New government must brace for a battle with doctors". Cyprus Mail. 14 January 2017. Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  19. ^ "Youngest hospital boss who is earning £155k aged just 32... and the NHS chief (52) who happens to be her fiancé". Daily Mail. London. 11 October 2009. Retrieved 11 October 2009.[dead link]
  20. ^ Wardrop, Murray (11 October 2009). "NHS boss under spotlight over relationship with high-flying colleague". The Sunday Telegraph. London. Retrieved 7 September 2012.
  21. ^ Borland, Sophie (2 February 2013). "NHS chief and riddle of his 41 first class trips to Birmingham you paid for... and coincidentally that's where his new wife lives!". Daily Mail. London. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  22. ^ "UCE honours key NHS leader". University of Central England. Retrieved 27 July 2006.[permanent dead link]
  23. ^ "No. 59282". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2009. p. 2.

External links[edit]

Media related to David Nicholson at Wikimedia Commons