Turmoil at the UK Public Health Association is deepening this week after a 'parting of the ways' with high-profile chief executive Dr John Nicholson. His departure follows the resignation of two council members.

Unrest among other council - But his departure follows what members continues, with a memo randum raising concerns about the running of the organisation circulat ing internally. In a statement this week, the charity said: 'With the clo sure of its Manchester office, the UKPHA has agreed a parting of the ways with its chief executive John Nicholson.'

former administrative worker Heather Rose - made redundant last month - called 'a power struggle That is tearing the organisation apart'. Documents seen by HSJ reveal a serious dispute between Dr Nicholson and UKPHA chair Dr Geof Rayner since July. Dr Nicholson had not been at work since 6 August when, he said, he was suspended. He was summoned to a disciplinary hearing earlier this month.

Dr Nicholson told HSJ this week that no disciplinary hearing had taken place. He could not discuss the terms of his confidential agreement with UKPHA, he added. But he did confirm there had been 'a fundamental disagreement' about UKPHA's direction.

The dispute had been 'geographical, political and organisational', he said, with the charity's officers and key supporters, 'led by Geof Rayner and [vice-chair] Shirley Goodwin' maintaining that it should be London-based.

'Politically, they do not want to challenge New Labour in the way they did challenge the Tories, ' Dr Nicholson said.

Dr Nicholson, a member of the Modernisation Action Team on prevention and inequalities, has advocated confrontation with 'antihealth forces', but was credited with a key part in ensuring the government's adoption of health inequalities targets.

Organisationally, differences had led to 'an old-fashioned voluntary organisation dispute between the chair and founding member, who will not let go, and me', Dr Nicholson added.

Meanwhile, council member Oliver Coles has resigned as a result of 'deep dissatisfaction with the manner in which the association has been governed in recent months'. Mr Coles cited concerns about the treatment of staff, problems in obtaining reports and council minutes, and growing secrecy. 'Yet more serious is my concern that members have been forced to take on faith decisions already made on their behalf by the chair and others, ' he states in a resignation letter.

'The effect. . . is to shake my confidence that all decisions are of demonstrably acceptable quality and have been reached, recorded and disseminated in accordance with agreed procedures.'

He said he was pleased the dropping of disciplinary proceedings had 'vindicated John Nicholson'.

Scottish council member Liz Irvine is also understood to have resigned.

One source close to UKPHA said the situation echoed that in 2000, when UKPHA's Birmingham office was closed, staff were made redundant and two council members resigned. 'I think a lot of it relates to Geof Rayner, who is extremely talented and knowledgeable about public health but is. . . a control freak.'

Dr Rayner was not available for comment. In a statement, he paid tribute to the 'considerable personal effort' which Dr Nicholson gave to building the organisation, securing it a significant public profile and overseeing a rise in membership from 600 to 1,500.