Rabbi Sacks was my inspiration, says NHS director who led vaccine rollout

Dr Emily Lawson will head a new unit at No 10 to implement government policy


An NHS executive who led the Covid-19 vaccine rollout has spoken of the sense of Jewish “responsibility” that has driven her work.

Dr Emily Lawson, national director for transformation and corporate operations at NHS England since late 2017, has been asked by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to head a new unit at No 10 to implement government policy from the summer.

A molecular scientist by training, Dr Lawson told the JC that it was “a privilege to be asked to head the No 10 delivery unit and a recognition of the scale of our achievement across the NHS”.

Being brought up Jewish, she said, has been “very much part of my identity, ever since I sat on the floor of my grandmother’s flat, turning the pages of her old photograph albums and asking about the names and lives of the stern-faced Victorians, and pictures of the portraits of those from even earlier eras, that they contained.

“Granny told me about how our family had adapted over the centuries to living in the UK, and I took on a sense of responsibility for being a Jew that has only become more important over recent years.”

She “subscribed to the weekly email from Rabbi Sacks a few years ago, partly to make sure I had something interesting to talk to my children about as they engaged in their Jewish education.

“It is a startling coincidence that just as the prospect of the vaccines job came up, I received the Vayera email about Abraham answering his call.”

She added: “Rabbi Sacks died that weekend, which made the message all the more direct.

“I am not superstitious by nature, but it did reinforce my natural instinct to roll my sleeves up and do my bit.”

She became a scientist, she said, “because I was fascinated by how complex systems work.

“Later I discovered organisations were also complex systems where multiple different components needed to work together to achieve the right outcomes.

“That fascination with improving in multiple dimensions simultaneously came in handy when I was leading the vaccine deployment.”

She has extensive experience in the commercial sector, having previously worked as chief people officer of the home-improvement company Kingfisher and group human resources director at the supermarket chain Morrisons.

Dr Lawson has also spent 15 years with the prestigious management consultancy company McKinsey.

She is deputy chair of the 30 per cent Club, which aims to improve the representation of women on the boards of British companies.

Before the vaccine rollout, she had been involved in the procurement of protective equipment for the NHS.

“Leading the operational deployment of the NHS vaccine programme has been a truly remarkable experience – hugely challenging, as one of the biggest logistical operations since World War Two, but also an amazing thing to be involved in,” she said.

“A real team effort and, despite lots of hurdles and bumps in the road, even more successful than we dared hope.”

By the time it came to getting her own jab, which she had at the Science Museum in Kensington, she said she “hadn’t had much time to think about it and it was a very emotional experience”.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister told the Guardian of the new unit: “It is about making sure that the Prime Minister’s priorities are being delivered.”

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