The NHS Executive has appointed Richard Douglas, one of its former deputy finance directors, to replace outgoing director Colin Reeves.

Finance directors welcomed the successor to Mr Reeves - seen as 'almost impossible to replace' - as someone 'from a very similar mould'.

Speaking exclusively to HSJ, Mr Douglas said it was 'an honour' to have been given the top finance job 'at what is clearly a very exciting time in health'.He will take up post in May.

Mr Douglas was deputy director of finance and performance from March 1996 to February 1999, under Mr Reeves, and has spent the past two years as finance director for National Savings.

Mr Douglas acknowledged that his two years working outside the NHS were at a time when its organisation was changing 'very quickly', but said he would be helped by the fact he had maintained strong contacts with the NHS.

His career includes several stints at the National Audit Office, where he was director of financial audit from 1994-96.He spent two years as head of financial planning and monitoring for the NHS Executive from 1990-92. His new post was advertised at a salary range between£82,341-£120,249.

Eric Morton, director of finance and corporate services for Chesterfield and North Derbyshire Royal Hospital trust, was 'absolutely delighted' by Mr Douglas' appointment.

He told HSJ: 'Richard has a really good reputation in the service. He is really well liked; he was very much like Colin.He had a lot of empathy with the service. He is a people person.'

As NHS deputy director of finance and performance, Mr Douglas claims to have played a major role in 'meeting the manifesto commitment to 'break the logjam in the private finance initiative' by 'presenting a clear and simple strategy to secure the market, improve the process and develop the product' - the first two legs of which were delivered during his time in post, he said.

During the same period, Mr Douglas also boasted 'a major role' in 'reducing a financial problem in excess of£400m to a twofigure deficit' and in developing the financial regime to underpin publication of the first reference cost data for benchmarking.