News story

Dame Una O'Brien to leave Department of Health after 25 years

The Department of Health's Permanent Secretary announces she will leave the department in 2016.

After 5 years as Permanent Secretary and a Civil Service career stretching back 25 years, Dame Una O’Brien has announced her intention to leave the Department of Health (DH) at the end of April 2016.

Dame Una is the first woman to be Permanent Secretary for DH and took up her role in November 2010, shortly after the first change of government in 13 years.

During this time she led the department through a defining chapter in patient safety as the government responded to Sir Robert Francis’s report into the failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. Dame Una also led a major programme to modernise the health and care system following the Health and Social Care Act 2012 as well as the change in government earlier this year.

Before taking up the role as Permanent Secretary, Dame Una’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.

Dame Una 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.

Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt said:

Una leaves the Department of Health after more than 5 years as Permanent Secretary, and a quarter of a century in the Civil Service. In that time, she has been at the centre of real and lasting improvements in the NHS, so her consistently wise advice will be much missed. She has made a huge contribution as we have worked together towards the goal of creating the safest and most compassionate health service in the world and I wish Una every success for the future.

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 5 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.

Prior to working in the Civil Service, Dame Una 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.