A 'brutal culling' of board members at a mental health trust has left staff fearing for their jobs.

Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership trust is replacing its medical director and finance director and has asked four other top managers to reapply for their roles.

Last year the trust's nursing director and director of service development also left and have not yet been replaced permanently.

Leaked emails, seen by HSJ, reveal staff were told last Friday that medical director Susan O'Connor had failed to get a new role of director of strategy and business development (and statutory medical director) and that an interim director would be starting the following Monday.

After a shocked reaction from staff, chief executive Laura McMurtrie sent a second email an hour after the first.

She wrote: "I am not in the habit of sharing feedback in relation to unsuccessful candidates with an audience wider than the individual concerned.

"However, in this instance I think it is absolutely essential to correct the perception that is being conveyed about the reasons for not appointing Susan."

The reasons were not down to a "lack of demonstrable business focus" but were "of a far more practical nature", she said.

An employee of the trust who wished to remain anonymous said: "It's come as an enormous shock, such a brutal culling. People are thinking: 'If it can happen to the medical director, will I be next?'"

A trust spokeswoman said it would be inappropriate to comment at the present time.