Episode 21. Backstage with: Sir David Nicholson.


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Sir David Nicholson is currently Chair of Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust and more recently was also appointed Chair of Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, but he will be a familiar name to many as previous Chief Executive of the NHS.

His career in NHS management started as a graduate trainee, and spanned more than 30 years including the most senior posts in the service. 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.

After holding several other roles in acute trusts and Strategic Health Authorities, in 2006 he was appointed Chief Executive of the NHS. In 2013, following a major national restructure, he became the first Chief Executive of the organisation now known as NHS England.

Since his retirement from the NHS in 2014, he has taken on a number of international roles providing advice and guidance to governments and organisations focused on improving population health and providing universal healthcare coverage.

We talked about his journey from being the son of a plasterer and the first person in his family to go on to higher education, to getting the biggest job in the NHS, the toughest point in his career and how he handled it, and his reflections on being married to a busy Chief Executive (Sarah-Jane Marsh) whilst being a hands-on dad to two young children.


  • Early life and influences (3 mins)
  • Why he went into the NHS (6 mins)
  • Finding confidence as a leader (9 mins)
  • What he learnt from working in mental health (12 mins)
  • His journey to Chief Executive of the NHS (16 mins)
  • Reflecting on lessons from the Lansley reforms (18 mins)
  • His reflections on the job of NHS England, and advice to Simon's successor (26 mins)
  • Feeling out of his depth (28 mins)
  • His leadership style (32 mins)
  • Leading as an introvert (38 mins)
  • Surviving the toughest moments, including Mid Staffs (42 mins)
  • The role of clinicians in leading change (50 mins)
  • Learning from other countries since retiring from his role (53 mins)
  • Juggling life at home with his children and Sarah-Jane Marsh (56 mins)
  • Quickfire round: including his favourite book, Netflix binges, and his top tips for new leaders (60 mins)


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24 episodi