NHS deputy chief executive Neil McKay has been appointed chief operating officer for the health service in a move designed to strengthen NHS Executive headquarters at Quarry House in Leeds.

The new role means that Mr McKay will be responsible for performance and operational management of the NHS and overall management of Quarry House, though he will spend most time in London. It takes immediate effect.

Mr McKay said performance management would be the 'most substantial' part of the job, and would mean working closely with regional offices. He would also be 'working particularly closely with the Modernisation Agency'.

He said staff at Quarry House 'will be able to play a full part in making policy work even more coherently'.

'My job is to make sure they are even better co-ordinated than in the past. I am a champion for Quarry House and the people that work there. It is a question of making sure that people are contributing coherently to the NHS plan.'

Mr McKay said he did not envisage any major managerial reorganisation.

'We have got some opportunities to think how we can reshape things. I am not looking for wholesale restructuring or anything like that. We will make changes incrementally.'

Mr McKay will also chair a fortnightly operating board comprising regional directors, social care representatives, public health, and the Modernisation Agency to coordinate and plan activity.

NHS chief executive Nigel Crisp told chief executives this week that the board 'will not only give us far greater understanding and grip nationally but allow us to respond more quickly to concerns and issues raised by the NHS and social care communities'.

Announcement of Mr McKay's new role came as applications closed for the post of head of primary care at the Executive.

In a move which surprised many, acting head Mike Farrar took up a new post as chief executive of Tees health authority last week.

One senior primary care trust chief executive said: 'Everybody felt that Mike was the strong candidate - when it became clear that he was going a lot of people hadn't put themselves forward because they presumed he would have got it.'

Mr Farrar told HSJ the move was right after six years at the Executive. 'It is a good move career wise and a big challenge. It keeps the door open.'

Sources suggested Dr David Colin-Thome, director of primary care at London regional office, was a strong candidate for the Executive post.