Ministers choose top banker with ‘an outsider’s eye’ to run NHS England

A senior British banker is set to become the new chairman of NHS England, after ministers sought an “outside eye” to make the health service accountable for its additional funding.

Richard Meddings, a former chairman of TSB Bank, is the Government’s preferred candidate for the role, which will become vacant early next year when the current incumbent, Lord Prior of Brampton, steps down early.

A non-executive director at the Treasury and at Credit Suisse, Mr Meddings is understood to have personally impressed Sajid Javid during the selection process.

A Whitehall source said the banker “has unrivalled business experience and will bring an outsider’s eye to the NHS”.

The insider added: “We can’t have business as usual when it comes to the health service – reform is needed to deliver an NHS that serves patients for years to come.”

‘Heavyweight’ from the private sector will be under pressure to deliver value for money

The Government was anxious to identify a “heavyweight” from the private sector with experience in digital and data, in order to help the NHS make better use of novel technologies. At present, around 20 per cent of hospitals still rely on paper records.

Cabinet ministers have also stressed their expectation that the NHS must achieve value for money from the major funding uptick it has been awarded in recent months. 

An additional £5.5 billion has been channeled towards the health service for the second half of this year, while a National Insurance tax hike is set to fund an additional £12 billion for the NHS next year.

NHS annual funding

A pressing priority for the new chairman of NHS England, who is offered pay of £63,000 a year for three days work a week, will be to bring down NHS waiting lists, which have soared to 5.7 million during the pandemic.

An advertisement, published in October, said a candidate was sought to “play a crucial role in holding the organisation to account to deliver improvements in patients’ care, value for money and broader health reforms”.

It called for applicants with a “record of achievement and of leading change and reform at the highest levels" and the ability to "deliver robust governance and accountability”.

Lord Prior, a Conservative peer and former health minister, is due to step down several months early before his four-year term in the post is up. He will leave before NHS England merges with NHS Improvement, which oversees trusts.

Richard Meddings: A lucky man, but with some difficult jobs in banking

Mr Meddings’ suitability for the role will now be considered by the Health and Social Care Select Committee. While the MPs on the committee do not have a veto, their report will be considered by Mr Javid before the appointment is formally agreed.

Mr Meddings’ closest friends believe that he is lucky. Robin Budenberg, Lloyds’ chairman, who was best man at the banking veteran’s wedding, has twice watched his friend hit a hole-in-one while playing golf against him, including one on his stag do witnessed by 11 of his closest friends.

“How lucky is that?” the veteran City banker once joked. “He thinks he’s good at golf but everyone he’s played against knows he’s just lucky.”

But that luck has not always carried from the golf course to the boardroom. Mr Meddings was the finance chief at Standard Chartered during the financial crisis, leaving after a “challenging year” and in the wake of a £415 million fine for sanction breaches from US regulators.

At the time, he was alleged to have called US regulators “you f—— Americans” during the bank’s settlement talks over its breaking of the sanctions in 2012. He was not accused of wrongdoing. Peter Sands, Standard Chartered’s then-chief executive, has since said he did not recognise the language, while Mr Meddings has always denied the claim.

“My mother always used to say how on earth did you become a finance director of a bank just before the financial crisis," he said in a 2018 interview with The Telegraph. "I think I’ve been very lucky actually – I’ve lived through the changes in banking, I’ve been doing it since 1984. I’m not quite sure why [anyone would think] I’ve been unlucky.”  

But Standard Chartered has been far from his only difficult job in banking. He was audit committee chairman at Deutsche Bank throughout its loss-making years and notably became the chairman of challenger bank TSB just months before it was hit with an IT crisis so bad that MPs renamed it the “Truly Shambolic Bank”.

The IT crash in 2018 marked the UK banking sector’s biggest technology fiasco in years, leaving almost two million people without access to their bank account, while 1,300 lost money through fraud attacks and 370 former customers were wrongly told that they had died.

Mr Meddings said at the time that the experience was stressful, but not necessarily more stressful than the financial crisis. Friends of his said his answer would have been different a decade earlier, adding that the banker’s long experience of stressful situations had helped him stay calm.

By the end of that year, Mr Meddings used metaphors derived from contact sports to describe TSB’s future. On strategy, he cited boxer Mike Tyson – “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. On the bank’s response, he turned to legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi – “it’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up”. And he insisted that the TSB brand was “bruised rather than fractured”.

The banker left TSB earlier this year and remains a non-executive board director at scandal-hit Credit Suisse, a role he took on last year. 

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