Epsom and St Helier Hospital trust has confirmed that its longserving chief executive Nigel Sewell is to step down just days before the Commission for Health Improvement publishes its review of the trust.

Dr Sewell will take early retirement following discussions with the regional office ahead of a report expected to be highly critical of the trust, which he has headed for more than a decade. A copy of the report, scheduled for publication next week, was sent to the trust and the regional office several weeks ago.

The trust is keen to highlight Dr Sewell's desire to concentrate on academic work, after gaining a doctorate last year and after 30 years in the NHS, but it is clear that the CHI reviews have claimed their first scalp.

Dr Sewell has worked at St Helier for 21 years, and was originally unit general manager before becoming chief executive when it became one of the first wave trusts. He later retained the post after it merged with Epsom Health Care trust two years ago.

In a statement, he said: 'Much has been achieved over the last two years but it is also clear that there is much to be done. I have come to the conclusion that there are distinct benefits in passing on to someone else the privilege and responsibility for the next stage of the trust's development.'

An early retirement package has been agreed with the region and Dr Sewell is expected to leave next month. Trust chair Jennifer Denning said Dr Sewell has been 'at the forefront of many improvements to hospital services over a long career' and said the trust wished him well in the future.

The trust has had a chequered history and has had performance difficulties in a number of areas over the past year. St Helier was given a red light for cleanliness, subsequently upgraded to amber, and came bottom of all the very large acute trusts in England for death rates within 30 days of emergency surgery.

At the time of the publication of the most recent set of NHS performance indicators in July last year, Carshalton and Wallington MP Tom Brake called for CHI to be sent in to the trust to conduct an investigation. In the Association of Community Health Councils' annual casualty watch this spring, St Helier clocked up some of the longest trolley waits in the UK. Both Epsom and St Helier were also criticised for treating patients in temporary buildings while a new building on the Epsom site lay empty.

One HSJ source said the trust is seen as being in a 'bit of a time warp' and Mr Sewell is one of 'a whole tranche of chief executives who embodied the culture of the 1990s and who were laws unto themselves'.

The CHI report is expected to be wide ranging in its criticism, highlighting problems with cleanliness, morale and recruitment as well as some clinical services, though the commission declined to comment in advance of its publication.