He replaces Alan Johnson who becomes home secretary following the departure of Jacqui Smith.
Ben Bradshaw, formerly health minister responsible for GPs, replaces Burnham as culture secretary. Bradshaw's replacement has yet to be appointed.
The reshuffle is seen as make or break for Gordon Brown after this morning’s news agenda was dominated by the resignation of James Purnell, the work and pensions secretary.
39-year-old Mr Burnham, MP for the Greater Manchester constituency of Leigh, was born in Liverpool. He was elected in 2001 and became health minister with a responsibility for GPs in 2006.
In 2007 he was promoted to the cabinet as chief secretary to the Treasury, moving to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport a year later.
The Daily Telegraph recently reported that he was embroiled in an eight-month battle with the Commons’ fees office over £16,000 worth of renovations to a London flat.
In one note he is said to have pleaded for expenses: ‘Otherwise I might be in line for divorce!’
Like primary care czar Dr David Colin-Thomé, he is a big Everton FC fan.
Dr Peter Carter, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: 'The RCN enjoyed a good relationship with Andy Burnham in his previous role as health minister and looks forward to building on this during his time in office. We urge him to listen carefully to the concerns of nurses, who can provide the frontline perspective needed to improve the experience of every patient.'
Niall Dickson, The Kings Fund's chief executive, said: 'It is frustrating to have another change at the top when Alan Johnson had been in post for less than two years. This move has nothing to do with what is best for the health service.
'However, if a change has to be made we welcome the choice of Andy Burnham. He has experience of the health system both as a minister and in his earlier career and he has shown he is committed to the NHS and to reform.'
- What should Mr Burnham’s priorities as health secretary be?
- News blog: Johnson shuffles off
Comment below and tell us what you think