25 February 2000
Langlands, who has held the position since 1994, steps down at the end of August to become principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Dundee. This week's declaration came as a surprise since he had won a three-year extension to his contract only last year.
The Department of Health denied Langlands, 47, had been pushed out. There have been rumours of disagreements, but Langlands, a Scot, is known to be keen on returning to his home territory.
His successor, in a key role that provides a conduit between ministers and health authorities and trusts in England, will be announced in the summer. Langlands' deputy, Neil McKay, who only took up his post on January 17, is an early favourite.
McKay made his name as chief executive of the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield and latterly as head of the NHS Year 2000 co-ordinating group. He is described as being 'obsessed by targets almost to the point of distraction', which may suit the government's need for a strong leader to push through its modernisation agenda.
Peter Homa, the former 'waiting-list buster' who is now the chief executive of standards watchdog, the Commission for Health Improvement, is another who could be in the running.
Also, a candidate from outside the health service cannot be ruled out.
Health Secretary Alan Milburn may take the opportunity to redesign the health service headquarters command structure. Langlands' job could be combined with that of permanent secretary at the department, or the secretary of state may become more hands-on in the day-to-day running of the service.
Milburn paid tribute to Langlands. 'He has demonstrated, during his many years in the health service, an absolute commitment to the principles of the NHS,' he said. 'Alan has made a major personal and professional contribution to modernising health care in this country.'
Langlands said: 'My career in the NHS spans 26 years and my passion for its founding principles is undiminished. I will remain absolutely committed to the people in the NHS and to the government's aims of improving health, tackling inequalities and modernisation.'