South West London and St George’s Mental Health Trust must win back the support of its commissioners if it is to survive as a standalone organisation, its new chief executive David Bradley has told HSJ.

In his first interview since taking the reins at the troubled mental health provider earlier this month, Mr Bradley admitted the trust had “lost its way” in recent years and needed to be more “open and transparent” with its partners.

But he also stressed the trust would not seek a merger or takeover and would continue its bid for foundation trust status.

Mr Bradley said: “This trust was seen as one of the best mental health trusts in the country 10 or 15 years ago. I think it lost its way since that period with a number of different chief executives and what it needs is some stability and some clear and visible leadership.

“We don’t need to keep looking at the past, what we have got to do is look forward to what we need to do and how we can improve services.”

The trust was heavily criticised in a draft report by the Mental Health Strategies consultancy earlier this year which was commissioned by six CCGs and leaked to HSJ in July. It suggested the trust needed to be taken over.

South West London and St George’s said the report contained inaccuracies and was based on old data. NHS South West London said it did not reflect “the collective view of CCGs”.

Despite this Mr Bradley, formerly chief operating officer at Oxford Health Foundation Trust, accepted the trust had made mistakes in its past relationships. He signalled that improving them would now be a priority.

The £170m turnover trust has just completed its public consultation on becoming a foundation trust but Mr Bradley accepted winning the “trust back” of commissioners was vital.

He said: “We have got to get the support of the commissioners. I will work with them over the next few months to see how we can work together.

“That is absolutely essential. If we don’t do that we won’t continue to be an organisation.”

But he said there had been issues caused by commissioners, adding: “It is never one person’s fault.”

He said commissioners were due to reveal their plans in the autumn, with a final decision on whether they would support the trust’s FT bid due by March 2013.

Mr Bradley said a key focus would be local services delivered in the community and not centralising them at the trust headquarters at Springfield Hospital in Tooting.

He highlighted the need to strengthen clinical leadership, saying: “Some of the things the staff are doing are fantastic but they don’t get the credit they deserve.”

“There is no reason why this trust can’t be one of the highest performing health trusts in the country,” he added. “That’s what I want to make it.”

Mr Bradley said the trust was “financially sound” and no longer had any concerns from the Care Quality Commission.

Asked whether he would consider joining the merger involving Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust, King’s College Hospital Foundation Trust and South London and Maudsley Foundation Trust, Mr Bradley replied: “Why would we want to be a minority player in the biggest trust in the country?”

“We know why mental health was taken out of acute trusts because it was seen as the Cinderella service. It got less priority,” he said.

“It wouldn’t be easier for us to go down the merger and acquisitions path - a majority of mergers fail. We are on a clear trajectory for FT status and yes we’ve got to improve things but we are on track to get there.”

David Bradley replaced interim chief executive Ian Wilson. Mr Wilson was appointed in January 2012 after the trust’s permanent chief executive Judy Wilson went on indefinite sick leave.