NHS London's interim chief executive has defended her new top team against claims they include political appointments meant to push through New Labour reforms.

Ruth Carnall acknowledged that two appointments were always likely to be politicised, namely former health minister Lord Warner as chair of the new London Provider Development Agency, and Number 10 adviser Professor Paul Corrigan as the strategic health authority's director of commissioning and strategy.

But she told HSJ that London was 'lucky to have' the team, adding: 'I understand why [Professor Corrigan's appointment] seems controversial but for us it was an easy decision. He applied for the job and was the best person for it. We are lucky to have him.'

On Lord Warner's appointment, she commented: 'I think it is a shame for Norman that it has been politicised because he is fantastically able man and will be really great in this role.

'The notion that I have put in place a team with the aim of privatising the NHS in London is nonsense.'

Her comments came after shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley wrote to senior officials at the Department of Health and to NHS London expressing his concerns.

Mr Lansley alleges Lord Warner's appointment breaches the ministerial code of conduct and has written to permanent secretary Hugh Taylor to demand answers to a series of questions about the appointments process, its timing and whether permission has been sought.

He argues that Professor Corrigan's appointment, which comes on the eve of a major shake-up of London health services, is 'deeply unwise' and should be abandoned.

He said: 'These appointments of people who have been at the most senior level pushing the proposals for the reconfiguration of hospitals are unacceptable. They undermine the credibility and independence of the NHS in London for reaching its own view about what is in the best interests of patients in the capital.'

HSJ understands that Mr Lansley has not received a response to either letter.

Unison also has concerns about the appointments. London head of health Chris Remington said: 'I think they will use London as a test bed. We will see the wholesale shifting of staff into the private sector.'

However, Ms Carnall said there was no impropriety in Lord Warner's appointment. She described the allegation that Lord Warner has set up the Provider Development Agency as 'completely untrue'.

Chief executives in London backed up Ms Carnall, saying she had put in place a strong team that would take a lead in developing the capital's NHS.

One said: '[Lord Warner's] appointment is an absolutely brilliant idea. They have created a semi-detached organisation that now has someone with the weight to give it seriousness.'

Another described Professor Corrigan's appointment as 'fresh and exciting', although one chief executive added: 'I have suspended my disbelief. It may just work although it's hard to imagine.'

The new team in London

  • Ruth Carnall is interim chief executive. She has been open about the fact that she wants the job long term. She has wide support across London, especially from PCT chief executives.
  • Professor Paul Corrigan, Tony Blair's special adviser on health and widely regarded as an architect of the current market reforms. He will start work director of strategy and commissioning in the summer.
  • Lord Warner, former health minister, now chair of London's Provider Development Agency where he will steer trusts towards foundation status. He starts this month.
  • Malcolm Stamp, PDA chief executive. Was one of the first foundation chief executives and will return from New Zealand where his is currently chief executive of Waikato district health board, Hamilton.
  • Paul Baumann, a finance director from Unilever, as director of performance and finance. One source described Unilever as 'just like an SHA with mad, uncontrolled subsidiaries.'
  • Antony Sumara, turnaround director, known for his work in troubled trusts.

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