The resignation of National Health Service (NHS) IT director Richard Granger has kick started rumours around where the highest paid civil servant’s next role may lie.

The speculation follows Granger’s decision to quit his post by the end of the year. Granger recently talked to CIO about his five years running one of the most complex and controversial IT projects, the NHS Connecting for Health, which runs the health service's £12.4bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT). That frank interview will appear in the July issue of CIO magazine.

He will move to work “primarily in the private sector” next year and said he was considering several approaches from would-be employers.

John O’Brien, analyst in Ovum's Government practice said: “So, where next for Granger? For someone with such a high profile track record Granger is unlikely to be stuck for options, and we don’t expect him to fade out of the spotlight. Indeed, he is apparently considering ‘several significant approaches’ at the moment. Rumour has it that a role at the Olympics might be a worthy next challenge, but we will just have to wait and see.”

NPfIT, the world's largest IT project, has come under critical scrutiny from MPs. In April, Commons public accounts committee warned that NPfIT was unlikely to deliver significant benefits to the treatment of patients by the end of its 10-year contract, unless there was a fundamental change in the rate of progress on the project.

The MPs said: “The Department [of Health] is unlikely to complete the Programme anywhere near its original schedule.” Four years after NpfIT’s start, there was still uncertainty “about the costs of the Programme for the local NHS and the value of the benefits it should achieve”, they added.

The committee warned that if the project failed, “it could set back IT developments in the NHS for years, and divert money and staff time from front line patient services”.

But announcing his intention to leave, Granger said: “My decision should be seen in the context of the changing role of the centre of the NHS and the fact that when I took on this challenge I said I would give this job five years.”

He added: “There remain a number of challenges ahead, but I firmly believe that the leadership of the programme by [health minister] Lord Hunt, [NHS chief executive] David Nicholson and my colleagues within CfH will ensure these hurdles are overcome."

Granger, who is known for his combative style and recently hit out at “whining critics”, said he was “proud of what has been achieved” by the team he established following his appointment in October 2002.

“I passionately believe that the programme will deliver ever greater levels of benefit to patients over the coming years. I want to acknowledge the enduring professional support I have received from my team and colleagues throughout the NHS.”

The NHS IT chief appeared before MPs at a hearing of the Commons health select committee last week and pledged that the long delayed Lorenzo care record system at the heart of NPfIT would start to be rolled out next year.

His announcement means he will no longer be in post by that time. Delivery of the software, produced by troubled supplier iSoft is already running more than two years late.

Granger has previously worked as a partner at Deloitte Consulting, having spent his early career at Anderson Consulting, now Accenture – a lead contractor on NPfIT until its pull-out last year.

He has worked on major IT projects both in the UK and Eastern Europe, and led the project management and system integration of London's congestion charging scheme.

Granger, who held the £290,000-a-year post as the highest paid civil servant, had said only last week he was hoping for ‘calmer waters’ for the project following its heavy criticism and supplier setbacks.

Ovum’s O’Brien said: “Granger’s legacy to the National Programme will be his strong leadership and commitment to making a difference to the way that the NHS performs its day-to-day duties.” But he added the timing of his departure, in the midst of major change, is less likely to have an impact on increasingly localised NPfIT delivery.

“The Programme is moving towards a more localised approach, where control and accountability is increasingly moving in to the hands of the NHS Trusts themselves. This means that clinicians and healthcare professionals will have more of a say over their choice of IT systems and services,” he said.

CfH is already two years behind schedule, has faced problems updating and integrating the disparate legacy systems of different NHS Trusts and has most recently suffered supplier setbacks, involving the withdrawal of one main systems integrator, Accenture and the financial and leadership-related problems that have hit its main clinical software supplier, iSoft.

Industry watchers have predicted this could be a fatal blow for the largest IT integration project in Europe, while others have speculated whether Granger's leadership style will be missed.

Over the weekend, Lord Hunt reportedly dismissed suggestions Granger’s departure would hinder the programme.

Additional reporting by Miya Knights