The NHS has appointed its first female chief executive, with Amanda Pritchard, currently in a deputy role, given the top job.

She has worked for the last two years as chief operating officer and deputy to Lord Stevens, who leaves his post at the end of this week, after seven years.

Ms Pritchard, a career NHS manager, who joined the health service in 1997, has long been considered front-runner for the job, which she will take up this weekend.

She was seen as the “continuity” candidate, against more controversial options, such as Baroness Dido Harding of Winscombe, former head of Test and Trace, who was ruled out some weeks ago.

Ms Pritchard said: “I am honoured to lead the NHS, particularly as the first woman chief executive of an organisation whose staff are more than three quarters female.

“I have always been incredibly proud to work in the health service but never more so than over the last 18 months as nurses, doctors, therapists, paramedics, pharmacists, porters, cleaners and other staff have responded so magnificently to the Covid pandemic.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I am delighted Amanda has been appointed the new NHS chief executive, the first woman in the history of the health service to hold this post. This is a critical moment for the NHS as it continues to care for Covid patients whilst tackling treatment backlogs caused by the pandemic.”

Before joining NHS England Ms Pritchard spent seven years as head of Guy’s and St Thomas’, one of the country’s biggest hospital groups.

Waiting lists are now the highest on record, with more than five million people waiting, and last week Lord Stevens said that even with the right resources, it could take three years to clear the backlog.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid thanked Lord Stevens for his “invaluable contribution” and dedication to the NHS.

He said he was delighted by the appointment of the first woman to the post in NHS history, saying Ms Prtichard brought a “steady hand” to the health service at a crucial time.

“Amanda brings an unparalleled wealth and depth of experience, having worked in the NHS for nearly twenty five years, and at this crucial moment for our country frontline staff will value her operational experience and steady hand,” he said.

Other candidates for the post are understood to have included KPMG partner Mark Britnell and Tim Riordan, chief executive of Leeds City Council.

Ms Pritchard joined the NHS through the graduate management training scheme in 1997, and held a succession of management posts, becoming deputy chief executive of a major London hospital aged just 29.

Ms Pritchard, who is married with three young children, has also served as a health team leader in the Cabinet Office’s delivery unit.

She has inherited “a strong public service ethos” from her parents, with her father a Bishop, and mother a maths teacher.

She studied history at Oxford University after attending a comprehensive school in Durham and has worked for the NHS for most of her career.

According to the NHS England annual report for 2019/20, the chief executive salary was between £195,000 and £200,000. The report stated that Sir Simon had, during that year, voluntarily taken a £20,000 per year pay cut for the sixth year in a row.

Ms Pritchard will be in charge of the NHS’s annual budget of almost £150 billion and the service’s 1.2 million staff.