Senior figures from both sides of the health service's purchaser- provider divide are set to contest next month's election to appoint

a 'unified' chair of the NHS Confederation.

Catherine McLoughlin, chair of the confederation's purchaser arm, has confirmed she will stand. Marco Cereste, her counterpart on the provider side, is believed to be on the verge of throwing his hat into the ring.

A third name mentioned in connection with the job is Dorset Community Trust chair Michael Schofield, a former chair of the National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts.

Ms McLoughlin, who is chair of Bromley health authority, said the confederation had been 'a bit tentative in some of the things it had done' in its first year, and it was time to take it forward.

Mr Cereste, who was chair of the NHS Trust Federation for two years and helped guide it into merger with NAHAT. said he was 'considering' whether to stand.

He is chair of North West Anglia Healthcare trust and a Tory councillor on Peterborough city council. Although he initially supported joint chairs for the confederation, he said both arms of the organisation had shown they could work together and that a single chair was possible.

'It was classic merger syndrome. They realised I didn't eat babies and I realised neither did health authority people,' he said.

Professor Schofield said it was 'likely' he would stand.

He was a key player in the merger of NAHAT and the NHS Trust Federation, and recently chaired the NHS 50th anniversary steering group.