As reported on prweek.com/uk (6 October), Lister will quit his post as health editor at The Times later this year to take up the top comms post at the DH. He replaces Sian Jarvis, who was director-general of comms since 2004.
Hanover director Gavin Megaw said of Lister: 'He arrives at the Department of Health at a challenging time that will make or break his comms career. He certainly won't have time to ease himself into the role.'
Communicating the competing messages of the need for huge efficiency gains alongside a real-term increase in Government NHS spending will be 'an extremely difficult task', added Megaw.
He also advised that priority would need to be given to restoring the department's relationship with NHS stakeholders - particularly clinicians - after what Megaw dubbed 'many months of all-out war'.
Salix Consulting MD Sarah Wrixon said that Lister would require the skills of a 'consummate politician', despite this not being a political appointment.
'He joins at an interesting time when not only is the NHS in turmoil and will require a deft communications hand, but the future of the department itself is far from certain.'
Wrixon added that while appointing a News International man might be seen as risky, Lister is a 'highly regarded journalist who focuses on fact rather than sensation'. She added that the department 'sorely needs a boost in reputation after the shambolic comms around the proposed NHS reforms'.