Dido Harding is considering throwing her name in the hat to become the next head of NHS England.
The 54-year-old former head of the much-maligned Test and Trace system has reportedly sounded out health leaders over the past fortnight about the prospect of succeeding Sir Simon Stevens as chief executive of the health service – which, with about 1.5 million staff and a £150 billion budget, is the biggest employer in Europe.
The Tory peer and ex-boss of TalkTalk is currently on a break, having handed over control of the Covid-19 testing effort at the start of April, the Sunday Times reported.
“She is seriously considering it but has not reached a final decision,” a source told the newspaper.
It comes amid reports that Kate Bingham – who led Britain’s vaccine success – will be rewarded with a dame hood. According to the Sunday Telegraph, the 55-year-old venture capitalist will receive the honour for her work leading the UK’s vaccine task force.
Harding’s application to lead the NHS would be controversial. A recent report pointed the finger at Test and Trace for contributing to a surge in the Indian variant of coronavirus. Despite £37 billion in taxpayer cash being spent on the programme, Sage said last year that it had “minimal impact on transmission” of the virus.
If successful, Harding will be responsible for delivering pandemic strategy – and clearing an NHS waiting list of almost five million.
The selection process is overseen by the NHS England board, but Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has a veto. Hancock appointed her to run Test and Trace last year, in a role which saw her report to the prime minister.
Harding was at Oxford with David Cameron – and held jobs at high street staples Thomas Cook and Woolworths before joining Tesco. She became chief executive of TalkTalk in 2010.
She attracted controversy when she refused to resign the Tory whip in the House of Lords in 2010 after being appointed chair of NHS Improvement, the body which oversees health service trusts. She has also warned against “demonising” private health care, the Sunday Times reported.
Meanwhile, people who have been contacted to bring forward their second coronavirus vaccine appointment are being urged to rebook as soon as possible.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommended in May that the second dose interval should be reduced from 12 weeks to eight for those aged 50 and over, as well as the clinically vulnerable.
The move aims to combat the spread of the Covid-19 variant first detected in India, also known as the Delta variant.
Since then, the NHS has sent texts to more than 1.7 million people inviting them to rebook their appointment.
Dr Emily Lawson, NHS lead for the Covid-19 vaccination programme and who this week received her own second jab, said: “Along with half of the adult population in England, I am now fully vaccinated against coronavirus, and I want to see everyone else follow suit.
“If you are contacted to bring forward your second-dose appointment I would urge you to do this as soon as possible, as getting both doses is what will give everyone the maximum possible protection against Covid.
“The vaccine is our most effective weapon against the virus and there has never been a more important time to get protected so if you’re contacted by the NHS, book your jab or bring forward your second dose.”