The NHS family is being praised by a knighted health service chief who led on Brexit and Covid.
An NHS administrator has been knighted after overseeing the health service’s Brexit preparations only to be thrown into directing its Covid-19 reaction.
Professor Keith Willett, NHS England and NHS Improvement’s national director for emergency preparedness and incident response, is among a number of scientists and health experts honored in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
Prof Willett was once the strategic commander for the delivery of NHS preparations as the UK exited the EU and was awarded the highest honor after 40 years in the health sector.
“I had spearheaded the NHS planning for Brexit,” he told the PA news agency. I was then asked whether I would take on responsibility for heading the response to what was then an early coronavirus that we knew nothing about up until the week before.”
Prof Willett, an Oxford University professor of orthopaedic trauma surgery and a consultant surgeon, is used to working under duress.
It was incredible how everyone in the NHS and beyond just stepped up to meet a challenge that none of us could have predicted would be so difficult.
“I’ve always been a trauma surgeon, so dealing with the unexpected, managing with limited knowledge, and responding to incidents is what I’m trained to do,” he explained.
“Outside of clinical practice, I thought Brexit was the most important role I’d ever been asked to play.
“However, I must say that the pandemic has obviously outdone that in terms of what it has demanded of everyone.”
Prof. Willett expressed his gratitude for being knighted, but added, “I’m also acutely aware of the many many really excellent individuals in the NHS and wider health community who have all given so much, and for some, that’s everything” in recent times.
He assumed responsibility for directing the NHS response to the coronavirus pandemic across England as strategic incident director in January 2020.
“I believe it has been really challenging for everyone at times. “It was about the unpredictability and the demand for those in leadership roles,” he said.
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