Foundation trust leaders are concerned ministers will try to appoint a government-friendly chair of Monitor, potentially threatening their independence.

The regulator’s current executive chair, Bill Moyes, is due to step down in January and the Department of Health has said it does not plan to renew his contract beyond that point. HSJ understands it is due to begin the process of appointing a successor this month.

Mr Moyes publicly defended the independence of foundation trusts several times, including last year’s row with NHS chief executive David Nicholson about the DH being “instructive” about infection control.

In recent months foundation trusts have become concerned about the government’s commitment to their freedom. In July, health secretary Andy Burnham proposed giving the government power to ask Monitor to intervene in, and potentially de-authorise, some foundations.

And last month Mr Burnham wrote an article highlighting the government’s strong “commitment to national standards and structures in health”.

Foundation Trust Network director Sue Slipman said the de-authorisation issue had “sewn doubts in people’s minds” about the government’s continued commitment to their independence.

She said: “We will be looking to the government to make a public commitment to foundation trusts by appointing someone who will have their confidence.

“I think [they] will be mindful about the way this appointment will be perceived, not just by foundation trusts but by everybody who is looking for continuation of reform,” she added.

Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh foundation trust chief executive Andrew Foster said it was likely ministers would look for someone who would be less challenging to them than Mr Moyes. He said: “They will try to make sure they get someone they think is sound.”

University College London Hospitals Foundation Trust chief executive Sir Robert Naylor said: “The critical issue for foundation trusts is whoever is appointed chair is someone who fundamentally believes in reform strategy and the importance of the development and independence of FTs.

“If that fails and we have someone who would return them to their previous status that would be a disaster,” he added.