London regional chair Ian Mills says there is 'no need to panic' over the appointment of a permanent successor to the departing Nigel Crisp.

John Bacon, London region's director of finance and performance management, takes up the acting post on 1 November.

Mr Mills said Mr Bacon - known as a hard hitter - had a 'lot of respect' among colleagues and his appointment as acting director meant 'we can afford to spend a bit of time considering who is the long-term appointment.'

He told HSJ: 'There was a lot of respect [between Mr Crisp and Mr Bacon] - they are quite different in terms of types of personality but absolutely in agreement in terms of ideas.'

Mr Bacon is one of a handful of people likely to be considered for the permanent job. HSJ sources speculated that his track record in performance management gave him a 'head start' over rivals.

Mr Bacon told HSJ: 'I have not yet turned my mind' to the question of the substantive post and he would 'take stock of his position' when it was advertised.

He said that he had been acting as Mr Crisp's 'unofficial number two' for much of his four years as a director at London and South Thames regions.

Mr Bacon played down suggestions that his management style differed to that of Mr Crisp. He said his team aimed to be 'facilitative. . . not to be the rottweilers of the NHS.'

Sources said the job was likely to go to an NHS insider. 'It is far more likely - given the politically exposed nature of the region. . . and the fact that to an extent London is seen as a talisman in terms of how the country is coping.'

Among leading health authority chief executives, Martin Roberts, of Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham HA, was a favourite. A number of HSJ sources flagged him up as a 'heavyweight' who had 'a good track record' and 'been able to get rid of dead-wood at LSL and bring in some sweeping changes'.

John James, chief executive of Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster HA, chair of London's specialist commissioning group and a former civil servant, was also suggested, along with Ron Kerr, NHS director of operations and until the end of 1998 director of North Thames regional office.

A senior source suggested that as Mr Crisp would be one of the main people choosing his replacement, he would need to balance 'his insight into what the job needs with the minor danger that it is difficult not to recruit someone in your own likeness'.

Other London chief executives believed to stand an 'outside chance' include David Panter, of Hillingdon primary care trust, Simon Robbins, of Camden and Islington HA, and John Pope, of North West Hospitals trust. There was also speculation that South East regional director Barbara Stocking could be a runner.