1 min read

Editor’s blog Monday 4 October 2010: Una O'Brien is new DH permanent secretary

Health Service Journal news maestro Sally Gainsbury tweets that the new DH permanent secretary, replacing Hugh Taylor, is Una O'Brien, currently health of DH policy and strategy.

This is one hell of a job. The DH's task is to keep system control during transition, while also preparing for its own significant reduction in size and alteration of scope as functions are introduced from quangoland and former functions are outsourced to the independent commissioning board and Monitor.

As the Department of Health turns itself into the Department For Public Health, the permanent secretary's job might feel a little bit temporary.

All the while, reports keep coming out of the DH that the civil servants' attempts to make sense of the White Paper changes are as heroic as they are muddled.

So, quite a task: one which must sometimes feel a bit like one of those Road Runner cartoons, where Wile E Coyote has run out over the canyon, and is frantically trying to build a bridge under him before gravity hits. Cartoon aficionados will remember that he never succeeds.

Rugby aficionados might see the job as a hospital pass.

O'Brien is an intelligent and thoughtful woman, and has hacked it in DH policyland for some years now. She is no naif.

I met her properly once (when she had relatively recently started in policy at the DH). It was at a training event, and a presentation I was giving about DH policymaking descended into a bit of a rant. (Arguably, I've never stopped since). Professor David Hunter was also presenting that day, and voiced many of the same criticisms, but rather more elegantly. We hadn't actually planned it as a set-up, but it might have felt like one to Una.

Best of luck to her: she is going to need it.