With the news of Richard Granger’s departure as head of Connecting for Health, a number of the key individuals he has worked with offered their praise.

The DH made clear that it will not replace him directly but with a DH CIO and CfH director of programme and systems delivery: “Matthew Swindells will act as the interim chief information officer, and Gordon Hextall will act as the interim Director of Programme and Systems Delivery, who will oversee the day-to-day running of NHS Connecting for Health.”

NHS chief executive David Nicholson said of Granger: “Richard Granger has done a great job in leading the National Programme for IT, which has connected every hospital and GP surgery to a common secure network. Patients are already seeing the benefits of faster diagnosis through digital access to x-rays and scans and new IT systems.

Nicholson added: “It’s absolutely crucial we build on these achievements and ensure that going forward we continue to deliver new and innovative systems that have helped NHS staff to transform the services they provide for patients.”

Patrick O’Connell, managing director of BT Health, said: "Richard Granger has played an instrumental role in driving forward the National Programme for IT, which today is delivering real benefits to patients and the NHS. His leadership, drive and tenacity have helped the programme get to this stage and he leaves a firm foundation on which to build. I wish him well for the future. We will continue to work in close partnership with Connecting for Health to ensure the successful delivery of our contracts".

In a statement, UKCHIP and ASSIST said: "The departure of Richard Granger comes as a sea-change happens in the whole area of NHS information systems with a steady transfer of emphasis from large-scale procurements to locally-based implementation, leadership, coordination and partnership. Richard’s arrival heralded a period of previously unknown investment levels in health information systems and UKCHIP and ASSIST have been pleased to be involved in those developments.

“We are impressed by achievements which could only have been driven centrally and have had demonstrable success across the English NHS e.g. N3, NHSmail, PACS, electronic prescribing and bookings and the negotiation of single agreements for software from the likes of Microsoft and Oracle.

“Whether RG’s style is to your taste or not, his effectiveness is undeniable and has been demonstrated by progress made nationally in the last five years.

“The post RG era which will emerge from the results of Swindells and Darzi reviews, will we hope focus greater emphasis on the need for a high quality Health Informatics workforce, appropriately skilled, trained and rewarded to support the huge investment in information systems to support patient care and patient safety."

Professor Martyn Thomas, one of the leaders of the NHS23 group of academics that called for a technical review of the National Programme for IT, said: “My feeling about Richard is that he’s a good man and his heart is in the right place, but he was in the wrong job.”

Granger’s approach of gathering a central team to see through the programme with ‘missionary zeal’ was not the right one, Professor Thomas argued. The service needed a person who could win the hearts and minds of people who were going to use the system.

“Richard was too confrontational,” he said, adding that the centralised approach he created was never going to work in a big complex organisation such as the NHS.

For the future, Professor Thomas cautioned: “If they [the DH] are not going to run a big centralised, contract-based implementation, somehow they have got to unpick the big centralised contracts. Making trust leaders the owners of contracts they never negotiated is not a solution to the difficulties they have got into.”

He said the group of academics, now sadly reduced to 22 by the death of Professor Colin Tully in December 2007, was very much in contact and still committed to watching and commenting on the national programme.