Ministerial responsibility for the pharmaceutical industry looks set to move from Andy Burnham to Lord Hunt of King’s Heath, the former NHS manager who has returned to the government four years after he resigned in protest at the Iraq war.

Lord Hunt had responsibility for pharmaceutical issues during his four-year stint as a health minister in the Lords from 1999.

A Department of Health spokesperson said the exact responsibilities for each member of the ministerial health team are still being finalised but she confirmed that Lord Hunt, who began work this week, will now lead on research and development issues and “relations with NICE” as well as the controversial NHS IT project.

Mr Burnham, who is seen as a good media performer, has taken over the high-profile NHS reform and reconfiguration remit previously handled by Lord Warner who resigned at Christmas. Some journalists linked Lord Warner’s departure to criticism of the NHS IT project.

As Philip Hunt, Lord Hunt was a senior NHS manager before becoming chief executive of the NHS Confederation, a role he gave up to become a Labour peer. Before achieving ministerial office, he was vice chair of the all-party parliamentary group on AIDS and was one of a handful of ministers to resign on the eve of the Iraq war. When asked about the resignation by journalists, deputy prime minister John Prescott said dismissively: “Who’s Lord Hunt?”

By Chris Mahoney