Published: 06/12/2001, Volume III, No. 5784 Page 6

Walsgrave chief executive David Loughton knows in his 'heart of hearts' that he will have to quit once the contracts on a private finance initiative super-hospital are signed in March, according to Gary Reay, who resigned as the trust's chair last week.

Mr Reay blamed his own shock departure on 'political backbiting'. He has now been replaced at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire trust by the current chair of Warwickshire health authority, Bryan Stoten - widely regarded as one of the NHS's best troubleshooters.

Despite a damning Commission for Health Improvement report, a no-star rating and last month's revelations that Walsgrave was the worst hospital in the country for heart bypass operations, Mr Reay has remained an unstinting supporter of Mr Loughton.

He told HSJ: 'I think David will probably go after the contracts for the new hospital are signed in March. I haven't discussed it with him at length, but in his heart of hearts he knows that. I think the NHS should then be looking to give him a job. We have got too few good managers in the NHS as it is, without forcing them out.

'If David wasn't up to the job, I would have had him out years ago.

He is abrasive, no question about that, but the board knew his foibles. We also knew he is a bloody good strategic manager. He got the£2m to open the new wards and it looks like he will secure the new hospital in March. And the idea that you have got the unions on the side of the chief executive is unheard of in the private sector; It is unheard of in the NHS. '

Mr Reay insisted that the trust had been 'hung out to dry'. He questioned the support of senior figures within the regional office, the health authority and social services - who he claimed were told of the problems facing the trust at least 18 months before the CHI report came out.

He said he decided to resign because the trust needed someone 'more politically aware'. Speaking of local MPs who have been calling for Mr Loughton to be sacked, Mr Reay said: 'It became clear that they were not going to back off, that they were going to continue and continue and continue. I wasn't able to cope with the politics of it and put our arguments forward. '

He described his replacement, Mr Stoten, as a 'big hitter in the NHS' who understood how to deal with local Labour politics.

On taking over in the hot-seat, Mr Stoten told HSJ that his task would be to persuade people of the quality of work being done by the trust, as well as making the new 1,200-bed hospital a reality.

When asked if he supported the beleaguered chief executive, he said simply: 'It is not a concept that I recognise. 'But he added: 'He is an experienced manager who has been running this hospital for a decade', and he also recognised that Mr Loughton was playing a crucial role in bringing plans for the new hospital together.

Mr Loughton is not expected to make any further public statements until the new year - providing he is still in a job when his three-month 'probation' to turn the trust around is up.

But senior sources within the trust have said that although he recognises the immense pressures on him, he was 'not a quitter and wanted desperately to see the PFI contracts completed'.