NEWS FOCUS: Gerry Marr has had plenty of experience of difficult headlines, but his new role, heading Tayside University Hospitals trust, may make him an even bigger target, reports Jennifer Trueland

Back in 1993, the Daily Record, Scotland's biggest- selling tabloid, used on its front page a picture of Gerry Marr sitting on a small boy's hospital bed. The headline was 'Would you trust your child with this man?'

Today, Mr Marr can laugh as he recalls that example of tabloid excess and explains that it came about because he was taking Yorkhill, Glasgow's sick children's hospital, through to trust status.

Such coverage was probably good training in media relations for Mr Marr, who last month took up post as chief executive of Tayside University Hospitals trust. The trust itself (it usually has the word 'troubled' in front of it) has had more than its share of newspaper column inches in the last two years.

Shortly into its first year (it was created in 1999), it emerged that the trust was facing the largest deficit in Scotland:£12m. This, and other problems, meant a task force was sent in. Then the Scottish Parliament's audit committee held its own investigation, which has just reported.

The trust's former chief executive, Paul White, announced earlier this year that he was leaving to take over St Bartholomew's Hospital, London.Who on earth could be found who would take his place?

Step in Mr Marr, who had by now spent four years at the Scottish Office and the Scottish Executive, first as director of human resources, latterly as director of performance and planning. Far from putting him off, Tayside's troubled time was, if anything, an incentive for the man who freely admits one of his biggest talents is 'change management'.

Indeed, he sees it as a logical career step. In his fourth week in the job, he says: 'I think It is a great opportunity and It is a good time to be in Tayside.You have got to put it in perspective. The remaining deficit We are dealing with is£4m in a£200m-plus organisation. . .

I am not going to devote 96 per cent of my time to a 4 per cent problem.'

Like Tayside, Mr Marr has been the subject of some hostile reporting this year. One Sunday paper revealed results of an internal Scottish Executive audit which criticised the strategic change unit (one of Mr Marr's responsibilities at the Scottish Executive) and Mr Marr himself for its use of public funds.

The paper also quoted unnamed sources suggesting that his move to Tayside was widely seen as a demotion.

This, Mr Marr refutes. 'I think the hierarchical progression of management careers is over and people are having to think more creatively about their jobs, ' he says. 'I see myself as having a portfolio career.Managers have been increasingly migrating across traditional boundaries - between health and social care, for example. It was never my intention to be a permanent civil servant, but it has been a real privilege to be involved during a change of administration and at the start of devolution.'

He also stresses that he has been welcomed by senior staff in the area, many of whom had come across him in his central role. A cursory look at his career history should also reassure unions and those traditionally further down the trust pecking order.He founded Scotland's first staff partnership forum long before joining the Scottish Office, and this was used as a blueprint for the more inclusive model which is now in place in Scotland.

As a former nurse and trainer, he has good shop floor experience.He also has a reputation for 'management by walkabout', and getting in and sorting things out - both of which should mean he is visible both in the trust and the communities it serves.

But does the top man in the Tayside acute trust want to be visible? Health bosses locally and nationally may have hoped a line would be drawn with Marr's appointment, especially as it almost coincided with publication of the controversial acute services review strategy for the area, which has caused considerable acrimony.

Another Sunday newspaper had different ideas and Mr Marr's first week saw the headline asking if Ninewells Hospital (Tayside's main site) was the worst hospital in Scotland, after two patients, a husband and wife, were allegedly misdiagnosed. This was followed by more stories from patients criticising the hospital.

'I have written personally to the patients who have made specific complaints and asked the director of nursing to investigate the allegations, ' he says.

'But it is difficult for the trust's 1,400 staff who live and work in the community and have to face people in pubs and clubs and shops.

It is hard on any hospital to be the subject of sustained media attention, but we'll get through it.'

Mr Marr has already held a presentation for staff where he has shown them his vision of success, which includes control of finance, performing well on access and waiting and having a clear strategy. The trust is on course to meet financial targets by 2003.

'I know what success looks like and That is important, ' he says.

CV: Gerry Marr

Background: aged 47.Qualified as a nurse in the late 1970s and worked in psychiatry, acute care and with children with profound mental handicap.

1981-83: Nursing in the US.

1983-91: Nurse teaching in Glasgow.

1991-97: General manager then chief executive of the Yorkhill trust.

1997-01: Director of human resources, then director of planning and performance at the Scottish Executive.