Published: 31/01/2002, Volume II2, No. 5790 Page 4

The chief executive of Portsmouth Hospitals trust, which received a zero star-rating in the government's performance tables despite achieving the highest rating in the country for its clinical services, is to leave at the end of March for a job in the private sector.

Mark Smith, who was only appointed chief executive in January last year, was given 12 months to turn around the fortunes of the trust after the September review.

At the time he said he was 'hugely disappointed' with the rating. But four months into the turnaround he has decided to join business process outsourcing company Amey plc as managing director with responsibility for health.

The company has been involved in private finance initiative ventures with hospitals, health centres and private nursing homes, including a£155m project to build accommodation for North Birmingham Mental Health trust.

Mr Smith said: 'The fundamental reason why I am leaving is that I have been offered a really attractive job. . . which allows me to be inventive and innovative. It is a much better package than I am getting at the moment.'

Mr Smith said he wasn't opposed to the star-rating system: 'It is a legitimate way to maintain trust performance.' However, he said he felt that the timescale given to turn the trust round had been 'very short'.

Mr Smith started his career in the NHS in 1975 as a psychiatric nurse. He spent two years as deputy chief executive at Southampton University Hospitals trust before joining Portsmouth.

Former chief executive of East Sussex, Brighton and Hove health authority Alan Bedford has been named as Mr Smith's interim replacement. He will be in post from April for 'three or four months' until a permanent replacement is found.

South West regional director Ruth Carnall said: 'I am disappointed that Mr Smith has decided to move on, but I am confident that the team he has put in place will continue to take the trust forward.'