The chief executive of the UK’s National Health Service has resigned amid allegations that he was pushed out by the government for failing to curb mounting deficits.

Sir Nigel Crisp said he was taking early retirement at the age of 54 yesterday, and admitted that ‘not everything has gone well’, adding to speculation he was asked to depart. Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has strongly denied the suggestion.

But in somewhat cryptic comments to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, Sir Nigel insisted he had neither jumped, nor been pushed.

“I am particularly saddened by the difficulties we have had over the last few months and the financial problems we are grappling with,” he said in a prepared statement. “The NHS needs a chief executive who can give leadership over several more years.”

Hewitt said the NHS chief had delivered huge benefits in terms of reduced waiting lists, but felt that – a little over halfway through the Government’s 10-year improvement plan - it was time to move on.

Sir Ian Carruthers, the UK Department of Health’s director of commissioning, will take over as acting NHS CEO, while Hugh Taylor, director of strategy and business development, becomes acting Permanent Secretary.