Ann Lloyd used to be a hydrologist, but the new director of the NHS in Wales has long had the health service flowing through her veins. Tash Shifrin reports

As flood waters continue to rise, planners everywhere must be crying out for people like the young Ann Lloyd, an assistant hydrologist, who 'had to work out how frequently rivers would flood'.

But Ms Lloyd, newly appointed director of the NHS in Wales, has no regrets about abandoning hydrology in the early 1970s and taking the plunge into an NHS management career.

She has, she says, 'a lot of heritage' to go on. Once described in HSJ as one of 'Bevan's babies', born in 1948, Ms Lloyd says: 'I've known nothing but the NHS.

'My parents met through the NHS - they met in hospital - and my mother worked all her life in the NHS.'

Her mother, a nurse, was keen that the young Ann did not follow in her footsteps. 'I would disagree now with my mother, ' she says, happy to encourage anyone to take up nursing. 'It's a profession where you really can go somewhere', with 'loads of opportunities' for nurses to move into management.

Ms Lloyd claims to have appointed 'the first nurse consultant in the country' at North Bristol trust, where she has been chief executive since its formation in a big merger last year.

But before she started work as district general manager at Bristol's Frenchay health authority in 1988, Ms Lloyd had climbed the management ladder in Wales as an area planning director in Dyfed Powys HA and a general manager at Dinefwr unit, Llanelli.

'I enjoyed working in Wales, ' she says. 'I worked there a long time and then went to England to see what it was like over the border.'

The Welsh Assembly is devising its health strategy, and Ms Lloyd's task, when she takes up her post in the new year, will be 'facilitating the implementation of that with the service in Wales'.

The Welsh health and social services committee will have Ms Lloyd in attendance 'to provide advice and support and take back things' to the service.

Moving between the Assembly and the NHS is 'a balancing act', she acknowledges, describing her role as 'a bridge'.

Those on the NHS bank have welcomed Ms Lloyd's appointment because of her dedicated NHS - rather than civil service - background.

Richard Thomas, director of the NHS Confederation in Wales, is pleased to see someone with 'a lot of experience managing the pressures and demands on the service', and who knows 'how difficult it is to manage the service under those constraints at the same time as modernising it'.

On the other side of the bridge, the corridors of the Welsh Assembly are less familiar territory. Asked if she knows Jane Hutt, the Welsh health and social services minister, Ms Lloyd confesses: 'I'm about to meet her in half an hour.'

But she is 'a people person', a former colleague says, and 'a tough cookie' who 'calls a spade an effing shovel'.

And she sounds confident in her ability to bridge the gap, although she jokes: 'I might change my mind when I find out about it.'

However, Ms Lloyd's appointment to the top job 'raised a few eyebrows' among Welsh NHS managers, one senior manager says. 'People in the health service are really surprised it's someone with an acute background only. What people were looking for was someone with a bit more vision and strategy, rather than a big organisation manager.'

Ms Lloyd counters that she has 'always managed community services, too', and North Bristol trust runs integrated services.

She also saw another side of NHS life when she took on a nursing auxiliary post for the BBC jobswap programme Back To The Floor in 1997.

One issue she didn't duck then was the sharp difference between the£8,000 salary of her new peers and her own.

'It still makes me feel as uncomfortable as it did then, ' she says. 'I basically don't think it is right.'

Ms Lloyd has been a high earner even among chief executives, recording a£118,000 salary in 1998-99. But the Welsh Assembly says her new salary will be 'around£113,000'.Doesn't this mean she is taking a pay cut?

'I suppose you could put it like that, ' she concedes. But she adds: 'I don't think that's the most important thing.'