David Fillingham, chief executive at North Staffordshire Hospitals trust, has been appointed director of the NHS Modernisation Agency, signalling a softly-softly approach from the organisation which officially starts work this week.

Mr Fillingham declared himself 'thrilled and delighted', adding:

'People who know me know my track-record and my style, and I hope I am seen as supportive and developmental.

'I have a human resources background - I believe that you get change by supporting staff, allowing them to use their creativity, and harnessing the talents of all the people in the organisation - that doesn't come about through an inspection-type model.'

Mr Fillingham acknowledges the challenges he faces in pulling together the disparate bodies involved - the National Patient Access Team, the Clinical Governance Support Team and the Primary Care Development Team, the leadership programme and the collaboratives.

Although he is not scheduled to take up post until 1 June, he plans to meet people throughout the service as quickly as possible.

Though one of his priorities is to familiarise himself with 'the Whitehall machine', he has no plans to move to London.

Another early priority is the development of the NHS Leadership Centre. 'My aim is for future leadership to be linked with service improvement, and for service improvement to be linked with leadership. We will have 50,000 leaders - not just people on boards of directors but the frontline supervisors in portering, in xray departments, ' he told HSJ.

Mr Fillingham's appointment has been widely welcomed within the service. NHS Confederation policy director Nigel Edwards said: 'We are really encouraged to hear that vision - It is one we support. There is been too much describing the elements of the Modernisation Agency as hit squads.

'His success at the agency will stand or fall on his ability to stick to that vision.'

Ken Jarrold, chief executive of County Durham health authority, said the appointment was 'an excellent choice'.

'He is high-calibre, and has good solid experience as a chief executive. It is particularly good that he has experience at HA as well as trust level.'

University College London Hospitals trust chief executive Robert Naylor said Mr Fillingham was 'a first-class colleague'.

'His experience in leading HAs and trusts is virtually unparalleled in the health service and he will have a broad and excellent perspective to see the overall context.'

Mr Fillingham has experienced the tougher side of NHS management. An inquiry into a controversial ventilator trial, in which 28 premature babies died and 15 were left brain damaged, criticised North Staffordshire trust.

But Mr Fillingham, who joined it after the trials, was praised for the way he handled the case.

All health authorities are expected to have a 'modernisation fortnight' in early June to launch the local modernisation review promised in the NHS plan.

Pilot work will take place in health systems in Bedford, Northumberland and Croydon, with findings from the pilots used to draw up national guidance before all other HAs begin their audit. During the two weeks, HAs must agree a work programme for the review involving all key stakeholders.