Northern and Yorkshire regional director Professor Liam Donaldson is to take over as chief medical officer for England on a top-ranking civil service salary worth up to pounds164,000 a year.

He is due to start his new job in September.

His predecessor, Sir Kenneth Calman, is leaving to become warden and vice-chancellor of Durham University.

The appointment of Professor Donaldson, who has combined the two roles of regional director and regional public health director, was warmly welcomed this week by NHS Confederation chief executive Stephen Thornton.

He said Professor Donaldson's 'focus on management issues' and his background meant that the new CMO was 'rooted firmly in the reality of trying to deliver health improvement'.

Mr Thornton told HSJ: 'I think the job is virtually undoable, because you have to look to the medical profession, to politicians and to the wider government at the same time.' But he added: ' I hope he can do the third of those effectively.

'He and public health minister Tessa Jowell need to make sure that the rest of government takes public health seriously and plays its part.'

The post of chief medical officer, ranks at permanent secretary level and carries a salary in the range of pounds95,720 to pounds164,310. Professor Donaldson will also be chief medical officer to the Department of Education and Employment, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and the Department of Social Security.

He joined United Bristol Hospitals in 1972 as a house officer. He then became a lecturer in anatomy at Leicester University in 1973 before going into epidemiology and public health in the north-east of England.

Professor Donaldson is married with three grown-up sons and supports Newcastle United Football Club. He currently lives in Durham.