West Sussex health authority's controversial chief executive Peter Catchpole is to leave for a new career, having failed to clear the HA's historic deficit.

His departure, to a quality consultancy, was made public just as the HA learned it is to receive a£9m slice of chancellor Gordon Brown's Budget windfall for the NHS.

Mr Catchpole spent five years in the hot seat at West Sussex, but was unable to eradicate an historic deficit, now running at£4.2m.

He leaves to take up a year-long secondment at the Health Quality Service, based at the King's Fund, where he will work on a primary care project for London. He also plans to study for a doctorate.

His imminent departure from the HA delighted local campaigners, who have fought against the proposed downgrade of Crawley Hospital and the transfer of its emergency services to East Surrey Hospital. The proposal is now under review by health secretary Alan Milburn.

Mr Catchpole, 52, spent 22 years in chief executive posts or their equivalent in the health service.

A prominent supporter of the Conservative Party, he stood unsuccessfully in the 1987 general election as the Conservative candidate for Hartlepool.

He told HSJ he wanted to make the best use of the 'last seven or eight years' of his career.

Commenting on the£9m for West Sussex, he said: 'I'm very glad at the recognition that there's a need for these resources to go in, and I'm sure they will be used well.'

He denied that his decision to go was influenced by the criticism he had received from sections of the community.

One local newspaper story on his resignation bore the headline 'Man behind hospital closure plans to get himself educated', and quoted a campaigner who said: 'We are glad to see the back of him.'

'I understand the sentiment - I don't take it to heart. It comes with the job', said Mr Catchpole.

Brian Hughes, West Sussex HA's director of corporate services, said the controversy surrounding the proposed changes to emergency services was 'no longer the top issue' in the area.

He conceded that the chancellor's£9m boost for West Sussex could wipe out the HA's deficit in a single stroke, but added it was important to proceed 'carefully'.

'If you simply buy off the deficit without sorting out the underlying problems, then you haven't achieved anything.'

Tough new spending plans which have only recently been agreed by the HA board may now be relaxed, thanks to the new funding, revealed Mr Hughes.