A Sunday Times advertisement this month gave applicants until next Wednesday to submit their CVs. The ad called for 'knowledge and experience of the delivery of healthcare', but not specifically NHS experience.
None of the names so far linked to the job is from outside the NHS, but the media has speculated that the highest public sector salary ever could be offered to entice candidates from business or an overseas healthcare system.
Three of the potential applicants are long-standing servants of the NHS who are due to take up chief executive posts in the newly-created SHAs next month.
They are Mike Farrar, headed to North West SHA, Sir Ian Carruthers, South West England SHA, and David Nicholson, who has more than 25 years' NHS experience and will shortly take up the top job at the new London SHA.
Also believed to be in the running are health secretary Patricia Hewitt's chief policy adviser, Matthew Swindells, and the NHS's commercial director, Ken Anderson.
But some GPs want someone new. National Association of Primary Care chairman Dr James Kingsland said: 'My preference is for a new face - fresh blood with fresh ideas. One problem with NHS reform is things change, but the same people keep the top jobs.'
But he added: 'I doubt it will be someone from outside because it is a higher risk. The internal applicants have strong records and may be hard to ignore.'
Medical Practitioners Union president Dr Ron Singer called for a chief executive who would stand up to the DoH over changes that did not fit the NHS.
NHS Alliance GMS contract lead Dr David Jenner is convinced the successful candidate will not come from within the NHS: 'I think they will bring in someone from outside the NHS sphere, possibly from the US.'
He said there was a feeling in the NHS that it was time for a change and that it was 'well known' that Sir Ian Carruthers did not want the job full-time.
Bradford and North Yorkshire LMC chairman Dr John Givans also believed Sir Ian was 'not in the least bit interested'.
But he said: 'Mike Farrar I would go along with. He has always been honest.'
GPC negotiator Dr Richard Vautrey said whoever was appointed must have a good understanding of both primary and secondary care in the UK.
He said an American leader could fill the role, but added: 'I'd draw the line at George Bush.'
THREE OF THE FAVOURITES
A Texan who joined the NHS in 2002 to set up independent-sector treatment centres, Anderson became first ever NHS commercial director in 2003. He has 16 years' experience in healthcare operations in the US, Europe and the UK.
Farrar was the lead NHS Confederation negotiator on the new GMS contract.
He is due to become North West SHA chief executive next month. He is also a former semi-professional footballer and non-executive director of Sport England.
SIR IAN CARRUTHERS
Sir Ian has been acting NHS chief executive since the departure of Sir Nigel Crisp in March. He joined the NHS in 1969, and is set to be chief executive of the new South West England SHA from July. Sir Ian has held similar posts in a series of health authorities.