The changing of the digital guard at NHS England continues with the news that Dr Tim Ferris, director of transformation is set to depart in September.

The departure of Dr Ferris will further hollow-out the digital leadership team at NHS England as it continues a massive wave of job cuts and redundancies, to reduce head count by 6,000, following taking over NHS Digital and Health Education England.

Dr Vin Diwakar, medical director for secondary care and transformation will take on the role of transformation director as an interim appointment until a replacement is recruited.

An internal NHS England email from NHS CEO Amanda Pritchard yesterday announced that Ferris will depart in September when his two-year secondment ends. He was appointed to the current role in May 2021 after serving three years as a non-executive director to NHS England.

“Dr Tim Ferris’s secondment as national director of transformation is ending and so sadly he will also be leaving us in September, returning to the USA,” Pritchard said in her email.

Throughout his time at NHSE Ferris has continued to work at the not-for-profit Massachusetts general physicians organisation, where he is chief executive, and a professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Pritchard praised his achievements: “Tim has been instrumental in ensuring we maintain the pace of innovation seen during the pandemic, in particular using data to improve health and reduce inequalities.”

Her email also announced the retirement of Sir David Sloman, chief operating officer at NHSE, a long-serving system leader of over 40-years standing and former group CEO at the Royal Free.

The role of NHSE COO will be taken on, on a temporary basis, by Sir Jim Mackey, national director of elective recovery and CEO of Northumbria Healthcare.

News of the departure of Dr Ferris had long been expected, particularly as he was on a two-year secondment and continued to work in the US. But it forms part of a much wider exodus of senior digital leaders that raises questions about future direction and knowledge of digital in NHS England.

Other NHSE departures announced in the past week include Matt Whitty, director of innovation, research and life science; and Dan Bamford, deputy director for medtech and digital, innovation, research and life sciences.

While Kathy Hall, director of digital transformation at the Department of Health and Social Care also recently departed.

Taking a longer view over the past months the losses have been striking. NHS England’s take-over of NHS Digital was always going to result in departures and rationalisations, but the exodus of experienced digital leaders has been far-reaching.

January 2022 saw the departure of Matthew Gould, CEO of NHSX. Almost all the senior leadership team from NHSX has since departed. These have included Simon Eccles, previously deputy CEO of NHSX, and Tara Donnelly, director of digital care models at NHSE.

January 2023 saw the departure of Simon Bolton, interim CEO of NHS Digital, who had been due to take over as interim CIO at NHS England.

So, who is left, and who is in charge of setting policy and direction on digital?

Vin Diwakar will take on the caretaker role for director of transformation but has not to date had much profile on digital.

Sonia Patel remains as system CIO, with responsibilities for workforce and digital maturity. Meanwhile, the long-running recruitment for a new NHS CIO, a role previously held by Patel, continues.

Natasha Phillips remains as national CNIO, returning after a break, while Dr Melanie Isles was recently announced as interim national CCIO. There are a lot of ‘interim’ and ‘acting’ roles around.

Another notable survivor is Ming Tang, NHS Digital’s director of data and champion of the controversial Federated Data Platform procurement.  One of the interesting questions following the departure of Dr Ferris is whether FDP will continue to have the support it has enjoyed to date.