Northamptonshire's director of public health has resigned to take a similar role in Essex.
Lucy Wightman has led the county's response to the coronavirus pandemic, with council staff told of her departure in an email today (Monday).
Rob Bridge, chief executive at North Northamptonshire Council, thanked her for work.
In a statement issued to this newspaper, he said: “Lucy Wightman, director of public health for North and West Northamptonshire, has been offered and accepted a new role as director of public health at Essex County Council.
“We wish Lucy well with her new position and would like to thank her for the important role she has played for our new council and in particular for her leadership in response to the Covid-19 pandemic."
At a council meeting in December councillors agreed an amendment to a previously approved blueprint for public health services, which included plans for a dedicated director of public dealth for North Northamptonshire.
But with Covid cases at a record high because of the spread of the Omicron variant the council has confirmed that John Ashton CBE, a a 'nationally recognised leader in public health', has agreed to step in on an interim basis.
Mr Bridge said: “We are currently advertising to recruit to this role (the North Northants director of public health).
"However, given the importance of this position and the current situation with the growth of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, we have put an early interim arrangement in place to support us during that period.
“We are pleased to confirm that John Ashton CBE has agreed to join us whilst we recruit to the permanent role and has already started working with Lucy and senior managers to plan a smooth transition and provide stability to the public health team during this transitional phase.”
Ms Wightman will remain in her current post until the end of the financial year.
In a statement she said: “In my six and a half years working in Northamptonshire, I’ve had amazing support from staff in public health, and many colleagues across the health and care system and wider public services.
"I would like to thank them for their diligence and professionalism, particularly during the past two years and the extreme difficulties presented by the pandemic.
“I will miss them all but I’m looking forward to a new challenge. I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone the best of luck for the future.”
Ms Wightman started her career in nursing and worked as a public health consultant before becoming director of public health at the now-abolished Northamptonshire County Council.
In 2019 she spoke out about how Northamptonshire's health profile "wasn't where she wanted it to be", highlighting areas where the county was significantly worse than the national average. She pinpointed excess weight levels, self-harm hospital admissions and violent crime as challenges Northamptonshire faced.
In 2020 her role became more public-facing when she became the face of Northamptonshire's battle with Covid at press conferences.
In March she confirmed our first cases of the virus after a county resident became infected in Italy.
Ms Wightman also oversaw the response to a huge Covid outbreak at the Greencore factory in Northampton and the struggles Corby faced last year when it topped England's case rate charts for several weeks.
Cllr Jonathan Nunn, leader of West Northamptonshire Council, said: “I’ve worked closely with Lucy, particularly over the past few years as we’ve battled Covid, and she has done an exemplary job in that time.
“I’d like to wish Lucy all the best for the future, I’m sure she will help Essex County Council take its public health services to the next level, and they’re lucky to be getting her.”
West Northamptonshire Council will also eventually appoint their own director of public health.
Essex County Council has been contacted for comment.