Published: 14/03/2002, Volume II2, No. 5796 Page 4 5

The management of no-star University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire trust will be put out to franchise, the Department of Health is expected to declare today.

The move comes a week after chief executive David Loughton (pictured right) announced his resignation and on the same day that the Commission for Health Improvement publishes its crucial progress report on the trust.

West Midlands regional office has always stressed that the future of the trust's management - in particular whether the trust went to franchise - would depend on the report's findings. But CHI's report is expected to be largely supportive of the trust's efforts to turn around its performance in the wake of the damning clinical governance review that was published last September.

Mr Loughton resigned with up to six months'notice to work while contracts are signed on the trust's£330m private finance initiative hospital - expected at the end of April - and a new top team put in place. He told HSJ he was reluctant to leave the trust he 'loved', despite the immense pressures he has faced to quit from local MPs and a minority of trust consultants over the past year.

Mr Loughton said: 'It was decided when Bryan Stoten came in [as chair, last November] that it would be in the best interests of the trust that I stayed on to ensure the PFI deal went through.

'We both felt that it was important that the trust was given an element of stability while that work was being done.

'I have spent the last 10 years of my career fighting to get a new hospital and I want to see it though. I am proud of what I have done, I am proud that the hospital was given university status, proud It is finally getting a new hospital. So the decision has been one that I have not taken lightly because I love this trust, I have loved working here.'

Mr Loughton admitted that the last few months had been extremely stressful for him and his family. Although he has been supported by staff unions at the trust, he condemned the 'personal' attacks from local MPs, his consultants and sections of the media: 'It became very personal in a way that was unacceptable to me and those around me.'

His supporters, including former trust chair Gary Reay, have said he was a victim of political backbiting.

At the height of debate about the trust's performance last year, Mr Loughton was the subject of an adjournment debate on the floor of the House of Commons.

Asked if he thought that the NHS could ever be 'de-politicised' as urged by health secretary Alan Milburn, Mr Loughton said:

'I very much doubt it.

'You just have to look at my own experience to see that It is unlikely.'

He also expressed concern about the chances of franchised management tackling the problems facing the trust - in particular low morale. 'It is going to be very difficult, ' he said.

'Staff are already extremely anxious about what is going to happen and they are very unsettled.

Their attitude at all levels, because of the bad press, has become extremely inward looking.

'The one thing that hurt all of us most was the CHI comment [in the clinical governance review] that there was 'nothing to learn from this organisation'.

'That was simply untrue, especially given that we were hitting targets and that we were rated as a two-star trust until the actual CHI report came out. It was kicking the staff in the teeth.'

Although he refused to be drawn on the subject himself, sources at the trust believe that Mr Loughton will ultimately quit the NHS altogether when he finally stands down as chief executive.

The Department of Health decision will mean that management of five out of the 12 nostar trusts put 'on probation' when the ratings were published last September will be out to franchise.

University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire trust joins Dartford and Gravesham trust, Ashford and St Peter's Hospitals trust, Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals trust, Portsmouth Hospitals trust.