Margaret Edwards, chief executive of Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals trust, has been appointed to a new post as director of performance for the NHS.

The role will include national responsibility for all aspects of performance management, including waiting lists, booked admissions and implementation of the NHS plan. It will also involve advising health ministers, the Treasury and the Downing Street policy unit on targets and modernisation.

Ms Edwards has been chief executive at Wexham Park - currently HSJ's trust of the year - since 1998, after spending three years as director of clinical services. She had previously worked at director level in both a health authority and a community trust.

She is expected to start the new job in October, based at the NHS Executive offices in Quarry House, Leeds, with two days a week in Whitehall.

'I am really looking forward to it - I am keen to have a new challenge, ' she told HSJ shortly after breaking the news to her staff in a letter which ended, 'Thank you for teaching me so much'.

She is currently on the access taskforce and has been chair of the regions' taskforce.

Ms Edward's first NHS post after leaving university was as a finance assistant, but she had showed early entrepreneurial spirit when setting up her own door-to door sales company after leaving school.

Described by one HSJ source as being regarded as 'an icon' by her staff, Ms Edwards has focused on training opportunities and staff development for both clinicians and managers and encouraging input into decision-making from all levels in the trust.

She is seen as both confident and creative and a leader who can speak her mind while commanding respect.

Another source described her as 'confident and feisty' and said she would not 'take any nonsense from politicians'.

He said: 'She is just very, very impressive - nobody has a bad word to say about her. Normally, you do not get to chief exec level without getting on the wrong side of some people.'

But he warned that the appointment of dynamic chief executives to Department of Health jobs could risk denuding the service of its best leaders.

'If there is one less fantastic leader at trust level that is a problem. But if Margaret Edwards going to this post helps other chief executives do their jobs better That is great, if she's able to take what made her a star and instil it into others - though I am not sure We have got the model to do that yet.'

How Ms Edwards will work alongside senior staff at the NHS Modernisation Agency or with the health secretary special advisers is not yet clear, though she will report to NHS director of operations Neil McKay.

Meanwhile, the agency is seeking a director of service improvement, a new post but effectively a role to replace that of Sue Jennings, formerly head of the National Patients' Access Team, who returned to her chief executive's post last month.