Published: 22/07/2004, Volume II4, No. 5915 Page 8

Modernisation Agency director David Fillingham is to return to the service as chief executive of Bolton Hospitals trust.

News that one of the main drivers of the NHS modernisation process has resigned comes in the week that the organisation's abolition is likely to be confirmed as part of the Department of Health's review of its arm's-length bodies.

HSJ reported exclusively (news, p3, 11 March) that the agency was to be replaced by a much smaller 'central organisation'. It is now thought that the new body will have around 150 staff, compared to the agency's 760.

It is likely to focus on innovation and leading-edge practice, have strong links with the DoH's research and development and commercial directorates, and pay more attention to public health and chronic-disease management.

The agency's support functions, along with many of the staff associated with them, will be transferred to strategic health authorities. All the agency's projects - such as the National Primary and Care Trust Development programme - will cease after April 2005, although some of their activities will be taken on by the successor body or strategic health authorities.

Mr Fillingham will be replaced by Professor Christine Beasley, the agency's partnership development director. It is hoped to recruit a substantive chief executive for the new organisation in time to begin shadow running from the start of 2005.

The departing director said he believed that contributions to improving access would be among the greatest legacy of the agency's four-year life. However, Mr Fillingham admitted that the agency had been too slow to undertake 'robust evaluation' of its programmes and had therefore not built a sufficiently strong evidence base, undermining confidence in the modernisation drive.