The new chief executive of the troubled London Ambulance Service has come in for universal praise. What's his secret, wonders Laura Donnelly

A man we can do business with'- that's the union's verdict on Peter Bradley, formally appointed last week as chief executive of London Ambulance Services trust. And if the unions are happy, LAS management could be inclined to breathe a sigh of relief.

But Mr Bradley - former director of operations at LAS and acting chief executive since the departure of Michael Honey in February - is well aware that heading Europe's biggest ambulance trust offers little chance to draw breath.And unions can be fickle friends - this week Unison's LAS branch is 'really pleased that they found the right person - someone who has a passion for the service and has actually done the job'. One false move from Mr Bradley, and all that could shatter.

For now, there is a feeling of calm.

Insiders at the trust agree they shared the fears of unions and pressure group London Health Emergency that an 'outsider' - from industry, or abroad might be recruited, in an attempt to shake up the troubled service.

And Mr Bradley admits that his appointment was 'in no way a foregone conclusion' - he was one of six candidates interviewed the day before the announcement was made. He rebuffs any suggestion that he will be any less radical than an outside candidate: 'The phrase a safe pair of hands has been used - I don't want to be that, I don't want the status quo.'

He is hardly a standard ambulance man. His career in health began in New Zealand in 1976 when he became a paramedic.

And for a man who describes himself as 'always ambitious' he admits that his entry into health was 'unintentional'.

'My then-girlfriend was a nurse: she suggested it - I was bored working in a bank, so she said why don't you try something else?'

Born in Leeds, Mr Bradley emigrated to New Zealand as a teenager.

He stayed there until he became chief ambulance officer of Auckland Ambulance Service. In 1996, he was head-hunted by LAS, which was looking for a director of operational development. He came back to the UK, bringing his wife and three children with him.

Everyone agrees that the future won't be easy; this month, the trust admitted that fewer than 40 per cent of emergency patients were being seen within eight minutes - compared to government targets of 75 per cent. Just 2 per cent of patients picked up by LAS after suffering a cardiac arrest are alive to tell the tale one year later.

The trust has created an improvement programme which calls for£26m extra funding annually for more staff, equipment and vehicles, and to introduce paramedic telephone advice and decision-support tools.

And with LAS, the conversation can't steer away from money for too long.

London Health Emergency campaigns director Geoff Martin is typically blunt: 'It is a massive job.

His success or failure will be judged by whether he gets LAS the funding it desperately needs.' Mr Bradley is well aware that resources are key - not just to improvements in service provision, but in building relations with staff :

'Resources are the focus: we need to get that right first.'

With that in mind, earlier this month Mr Bradley began a round of 30 meetings to consult with staff on the improvement programme, on which LAS will form an action plan in October. He believes 'getting away from the blame culture to a more positive way of doing things' is key to the transformation of the service.

Eric Roberts, Unison branch secretary for LAS, is optimistic that Mr Bradley will bring an open and approachable style to the trust, and compares him favourably with predecessor Michael Honey.

'They are like chalk and cheese. Peter seems to have a very different approach. He [Mr Honey] was very difficult to talk to, very difficult to approach.'

Mr Roberts flags up an incident two days before Mr Bradley's appointment which showed he was 'a man we can do business with'. A dispute over holiday leave had Unison threatening to take industrial action. On the day the union met to decide whether to ballot its members, Mr Bradley became personally involved.

'Until then we had been dealing with various managers at different levels - it was the first time that we had managed to speak to Peter and we came to an agreeement.'

The threats were withdrawn, LAS reinstated old annual leave arrangements and Unison agreed to enter into talks on the matter.

Mr Roberts says: 'We will have problems because it is a difficult service.

We can't climb into bed with every chief executive - but we do want to work with Peter.'