Health department chief Una O’Brien to leave British civil service

By on 14/12/2015 | Updated on 25/09/2020
Una O'Brien, permanent secretary, Department of Health, United Kingdom, announces her departure will be in April 2016

The first ever female permanent secretary of the UK’s Department of Health, Dame Una O’Brien, has today announced she is stepping down from her role.

O’Brien, who assumed her current role – the most senior position in the department – in 2010, will leave government in April 2016 after 25 years in the civil service.

She said: “It has been and remains a huge privilege to work with so many talented and skilled colleagues at the Department of Health, with our national partner organisations, the NHS and beyond.

“Over the last parliament, we implemented important changes to make a positive impact on people’s lives. As we plan for the next phase of change in the department and the wider health and care system, with the Spending Review complete and the government’s plans for the parliament set out, I feel the time will be right, next April, for me to leave.

“My successor will be arriving at a good time to take on leadership of change in the department and the implementation of ministers’ agendas through to 2020. And I am confident that the excellent public servants in the Department of Health, applying this experience, will be highly capable of their role in ensuring that the health and care system continues to improve in the years ahead.”

Sir Jeremy Heywood, cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, said: “I am hugely grateful to Una for all that she has done over the last 25 years in the civil service, and in the last five in particular, where she has expertly led the Department of Health.

“Una has also made an enormous contribution to the wider leadership of the civil service, including on important issues such as talent and diversity, for which I am hugely grateful. I wish Una all the very best in the next phase of her career. We will miss her.”

Before taking up the role as Permanent Secretary, O’Brien’s roles included director-general of policy and strategy at the department, and director of development and clinical governance at University College London NHS Foundation Trust.

Earlier roles in her civil service career included working in the prime minister’s efficiency unit, with oversight of the criminal justice departments. She was also lead civil servant on the Bristol/Kennedy Inquiry, a seminal public inquiry into NHS heart surgery.

Prior to working in the civil service, O’Brien was a researcher on Northern Ireland for two MPs.

In the 1980s, she also helped establish London Lighthouse – a pioneering third sector provider of services for people with HIV and AIDS.


See also: our full interview with Dame Una O’Brien

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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