Hospital campaigners have accused two Hertfordshire trusts of 'parachuting in' a senior NHS Executive manager to 'force through unpopular changes in healthcare'.

Kate James - director of corporate planning at London regional office - has been given a two-year secondment as director of performance management on a project team running Mount Vernon and Watford Hospitals trust and St Albans and Hemel Hempstead trust.

The trusts are waiting for a ministerial decision on plans to merge and health authority proposals to cut the number of the trusts' acute sites.

But Jean Brett, vice-chair of Watford Against Threats to Close Hospitals, said: 'Why is someone with that kind of clout coming out to the sticks?'

She described the appointment of such a 'high-level manager' - on a£65,000 salary - as an attempt to 'force through healthcare changes in the face of widespread opposition'.

Ms Brett criticised selection processes as relying on a 'mirror advert - tailored to justify the secondment and rule out other suitable candidates'.

A spokeswoman for the existing trusts rebutted this, describing Ms James as 'simply the best person for the job'.

She defended the recruitment processes as 'completely open', saying that four candidates were interviewed during a 'thorough two-stage process'.

Ms James was looking forward to 'the chance to gain valuable experience of frontline services' following four years working at the regional office, the spokeswoman added.