The chief executive of the Health Education Authority has announced his resignation a week after plans to overhaul the organisation were revealed.

The replacement of the HEA with a Health Development Agency - a public health equivalent of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence - was outlined in a draft of the delayed public health white paper leaked to HSJ two weeks ago.

In a statement, HEA chief executive Seymour Fortescue said he had 'felt for some time that my skills and experience are not the most suitable for leading the HEA into a new era'.

The organisation has recently appointed a new chair, Yve Buckland, and is in the process of selecting a new board of non-executive directors.

The HDA - due to be launched in October as a special health authority - promises evidence-based guidelines for health programmes and will evaluate and disseminate research on public health.

North Yorkshire health authority director of public health Professor Mark Baker described the new model for the public health body as an 'act of faith - as indeed is NICE'.

But he said there was 'justification in co-ordinating the various sources of evidence on public health just as there will be around clinical information'.

Donald Reid, joint chief executive of the UK Public Health Association, hoped the introduction of evidence-based guidelines would increase the autonomy of the new body.

'I think the new organisation will have the same trappings of apparent independence as the HEA,' he said.

'But it should have more freedom in practice - because of its involvement in technical and scientific matters - where the government tends to be less involved.'

Describing the changes as 'a step in the right direction', Mr Reid said he would have liked to see the introduction of a public health commission. 'We would have been quite keen to see something a bit grander, a bit more upmarket, with the same level of independence we hope the Food Standards Agency is likely to have,' he added.

Others were optimistic that the new body's influence would be strengthened by links with health action zones and health improvement programmes.

Ann Wylie, development co-ordinator and health promotion specialist at Guy's, King's and St Thomas' School of Medicine, hoped the local initiatives would help the HDA 'move away from having to pander to the Department of Health'.

And chief executive of North and East Devon HA Dr Gill Morgan said: 'I think the aim should be to get the resources and action at a local level.'

West Hertfordshire HA director of public health and strategy Dr Barry Tennison stressed the importance of retaining 'a strong national focus on health promotion'. He paid tribute to the HEA's past role in national health promotion on issues such as HIV.

Plans to introduce increased local and multidisciplinary working have received widespread approval from public health specialists. The announcement of a public health skills audit and posts for non-medical public health consultants have also been welcomed.