Professor Jonathan Benger, the former chief medical officer at NHS Digital and acting national CCIO at NHS England since April, is to become the new chief medical officer at the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).

Professor Benger is one of two of NHS England’s most senior doctors in clinical informatics leadership roles taking up new positions outside the organisation.

In an NHS England internal bulletin Dr Tim Ferris, director of transformation, said: “Jonathan has played a significant role in NHS Digital’s leadership in recent years, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, and I have appreciated his expertise and advice.”

In addition, Dr Gareth Thomas, the long-serving deputy national CCIO at NHS England is to take up a new role as digital innovation director across the Greater Manchester health and care system. The new role is a joint appointment between Health Innovation Manchester and NHS Greater Manchester Integrated Care.

Speaking of his new role Dr Thomas said: “The role of digital innovation director brings the opportunity to work with providers and frontline teams within Greater Manchester, ensuring that funding and innovations are prioritised to bring the greatest impact upon the health, wealth and wellbeing of our 2.8 million citizens.”

Dr Thomas is a consultant in Intensive Care Medicine and Anaesthesia and was previously clinical director at Salford Royal. Prior to his national role he was the Group CCIO at the Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust.

Ben Bridgewater, chief executive of Health Innovation Manchester, said: “Gareth’s blend of deep clinical and digital expertise means he will be able to translate clinical problems into digital solutions to drive forward our innovation and digital transformation agenda for the benefit of local people, our health, academic and industry partners and the GM economy.”

Prof Benger, who appeared on Digital Health Unplugged back in February, where he reacted to receiving a CBE in the New Year’s Honours List for ‘services to the NHS’, and Dr Thomas’ moves have been supported by others in the sector.

James Reed, CCIO at Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS FT and chair of the CCIO Network commented: “On a personal level I am pleased for both of them that they have found new opportunities to apply their considerable expertise, and I wish them well.

“However, I am concerned about what this means for clinical informatics leadership within NHS England. Given all the challenges we are facing at all levels, it has never been more important that there is clear and well-informed leadership in from the centre.”

Reed said he was still awaiting a reply to a letter written to NHS England CEO Amanda Pritchard on the vital need to retain the national CCIO role, “and it now feels like a more important issue than ever”.

Dr Ferris thanked both Benger and Thomas for their leadership in clinical informatics and said this remained a priority area for NHS England. No indication was provided, however, on when a new national CCIO might be recruited.