Profile: Miranda Kavanagh, head of comms and engagement, Healthcare Commission

Three months into her job at the Healthcare Commission, Miranda Kavanagh - one of an emerging breed of former private sector comms specialists taking senior public sector posts - can now take stock of how her life has changed.

She joined the health watchdog from US drugs firm Pfizer - where she needed to handle manifold corporate PR headaches, such as criticism of its testing in Africa - via a stint as executive director at London Business School.

Talking to PRWeek in her office in the City, she calmly explains the attractions of her new role: ‘In the private sector you are fire-fighting but here, the basis of our work is pro­actively putting out information around a political hot potato.' She adds: ‘I am not motivated by money and have always envisaged working in the public sector. In the private sector, work is all about shareholder values.'

The Healthcare Commission - which regulates private and NHS bodies - took over the role of the Commission for Healthcare Improvement in 2004, also assuming some responsibilities from the National Care Standards Commission and the Audit Commission, as well as a number of additional functions.

Casting her mind back to her days at Pfizer she observes: ‘If you want to further an argument in the pharma sector, you use a PowerPoint presentation. But in the public sector you write a document', a reference to the notorious bureau­cracy of the public sector.

Housed in a tower in the City of London, the commission's headquarters are strangely anonymous, without number or signage. While still in its infancy, the organisation is already moving in a new direction: last month it overhauled the way it rates health providers - its raison d'être - stirring up criticism that the new system will be less effective.

Many other regulators' comms heads will empathise when Kavanagh   - who heads a communications team of 32 - reflects: ‘We have a constant balancing act between being a light touch and not being overly burdensome.'

More change is afoot. In 2008 the organisation will merge with the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Mental Health Act Commission - part of the Government's plan to reduce the number of watchdogs. This has also caused controversy, with the Healthcare Commission's chair expressing concern about potential funding cutbacks.

With potential job losses on the horizon, Kavanagh admits staff morale is likely to be affected, but says a lot can change before 2008.

Kavanagh comes across as understated. Her mannerisms are gentle and her speech is soft yet firm, creating an impression of control and focus.

She even names Winston Churchill as the person she most admires.

‘He decided on a particular course of action and didn't let people get in his way,' she says.A former solicitor, Kavanagh's lifestyle is stereotypically upper-middle class, from her rose-covered cottage in Surrey to her two horses and enjoyment of gardening. She has two children, and her father-in-law is film director Dennis Kavanagh.

While she may be polite - although a little reserved - during interview, there is no doubt that she is happy to bare her teeth when required. ‘My friends would describe me as bossy, even fierce and frightening. But I also have a logical mind and am not prone to outbursts,' she says.

Alluding to her earlier career in investor relations, Kavanagh - who has also worked on the agency-side for Citigate in the mid to late-1990s -reveals that she is as ‘happy looking at a company's reports as I am dealing with the media'.

Perched on her chair in her office, a glimmer of humour slips through when asked if her own GP knows where she works. ‘My husband has probably told my GP as a joke, warning him that he had better get everything right,' she laughs.

A rare moment of light relief for an otherwise serious and authoritative communicator.

CV - Miranda Kavanagh

2006 - Head of communications and engagement, Healthcare Commission

2006 - Executive director, Centre for Corporate Governance - London Business School

1998 - Director of corporate and public affairs, Pfizer

1995 - Board director, Citigate

1992 - Director of corporate affairs, Fisons

1989 - Head of corporate affairs, Blue Circle Industries

1986 - Investor relations manager, Glaxo Holdings

1984 - Samuel Montagu & Co

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