The chair of the Chief Clinical Information Officer (CCIO) network has called for the national CCIO role to be given more clout, and be put on a level with the head of the US Office of the National Coordinator for Information Technology.

Speaking to Digital Health News Dr Joe McDonald, elected chair of the national CCIO Network, said he’d decided not apply for the national CCIO role as he believed it needed to be significantly “beefed-up” to ensure clear national-level clinical leadership of NHS IT.

“Unfortunately this is not the senior national role recommended by Dr Robert Wachter in his review of NHS IT,” McDonald said.

“This will never be right until the NHS CCIO is on the NHS board and has the budget for IT, like the head of the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) in the US. I’d apply for that job.”

Each of the heads of the ONC, the US federal agency that oversees digitisation of US healthcare, appointed  since the ONC was established in 2004 under President Bush, has always been a high-level clinician.

But despite concerns in some quarters about whether the role comes with sufficient power, the national CCIO role has still attracted a wide range of applications from experienced candidates across all parts of the NHS, including general practice, hospitals and mental health.

Three high-calibre clinical information leaders have been tipped as early front-runners to success Professor Keith McNeill.  They are Dr Simon Eccles, Professor Maureen Baker and Dr Justin Whatling.

Prof McNeil was appointed as the first national CCIO in July 2016 as the foremost of a troika of clinical informatics leaders, the other two being NHS CIO Will Smart and director of digital experiences Juliette Bauer.

In August the highly regarded Prof McNeil, a former chief executive of Cambridge University Hospitals, announced he was stepping down in December to take up a new role in Queensland, Australia.

Applications for a replacement national CCIO, who will chair the NHS National Information Board, be a Board Member of NHS Digital, and work collaboratively with NHS Improvement, Public Health England, Care Quality Commission and NICE, closed on 14 November.

The job advert calls for a “Visionary leader with a track record of leading the development and implementation of national information and data strategies to transform health services.”

Several candidates have told Digital Health News this week that they had not heard any news on short-listing.

A spokesperson for NHS England on Tuesday (22 November) declined to say when a short-list will be announced, stating: “It’s an ongoing recruitment for this joint post and NHSE/NHSI will make an announcement once an appointment has been made.”

Dr Eccles confirmed to Digital Health News last week that he had applied for the national CCIO role.  Dr Whatling and Professor Baker did not confirm whether they have applied.

Dr Eccles has been widely tipped as a likely front-runner for the national CCIO role since Prof McNeill announced he planned to step down

Dr Eccles is a consultant in Emergency Medicine at St Thomas’ Hospital and programme director for Emergency Care Pathway Transformation in London.

He has held a string of senior responsible officer roles nationally, including medical director for NHS Connecting for Health and SRO for NHSmail.  He has just taken on a new national remit on interoperability.

However, both other hotly tipped candidates also come with similarly impressive curriculum vitae and strong credentials.

Professor Maureen Baker has held the most senior position of the three as the most recent former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners.

Prof Baker has a long-standing leadership record on the clinical safety of clinical systems, holding senior clinical positions at Connecting for Health and the National Programme for IT.

Dr Justin Whatling, also a professor, comes with an illustrious CV.  He is currently vice president population at Cerner.  He has previously been clinical lead at BT and a non-exec board member of the British Medical Journal.

He is also a visiting professor at UCL and former chair of BCS health, succeeding Matthew Swindells, the NHS England director of operations and information to whom the CCIO will report.

If he were to be appointed to the national CCIO role it would re-unite Dr Whatling and Swindells who worked closely together at Cerner.

Correction – The original version of this story, published on 16 November, incorrectly reported that the three candidates had been short-listed for the role.  NHS England has contacted Digital Health News and said this is incorrect and that no short-list has been agreed.