this week

The swift departure of one of London's best-known health service chief executives has surprised senior managers.

Peter Coe announced his departure a day before swapping his post as chief executive of East London and the City health authority for a six-month secondment as acting head of the NHS Executive prison healthcare taskforce.

Although the Department of Health insisted that the job was a secondment, the HA is advertising for a replacement. HA deputy chief executive Kevin Barton has been appointed acting chief executive.

Senior managers and City and Hackney community health council have questioned whether 'apparent tensions' in the relationship between Mr Coe and Professor Elaine Murphy - who was appointed HA chair in April - were behind the sudden move.

They pointed to similar rumours surrounding the departure of chief executive Michael Fox, who left City and Hackney Community trust in 1997, when Professor Murphy was its chair.

'To lose one chief executive seems unfortunate - to lose a second begins to look like carelessness,' one HSJ source remarked.

Professor Murphy said she was 'a long time fan and admirer' of Mr Coe and 'thrilled that he was offered the exciting opportunity' of his new post.

She added that the circumstances surrounding Mr Coe's departure were 'entirely different' to those surrounding the resignation of Mr Fox.

CHC deputy chief officer Joy Vollmer said she was 'aware of tensions, but Professor Murphy had been 'a breath of fresh air'.

Mr Coe was not available for comment.