Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust, has been named as chief executive designate of Public Health England.

The new body will be established in April 2013. It will support local authorities to take over the bulk of responsibility for public health from primary care trusts and jointly appoint their directors of public health.

It will also be directly responsible for overseeing national health protection, public health information and intelligence, and services for the public through social marketing and behavioural insight activities.

Mr Selbie will take up his post no later than 1 July 2012. He will receive a salary of between £180,000 and £185,000.

Mr Selbie has spent the past five years at Brighton and Sussex, where he has overseen it pay off its historic debts and found a new medical school. It is currently in the process of securing public funds for a major capital project ahead of its submission to become a foundation trust in 2013.

He said: “I do not in any way underestimate the challenge this presents. By getting this right, I believe Public Health England will make a unique and extremely positive contribution to the public’s health alongside local government and the NHS.”

Prior to joining Brighton and Sussex, Mr Selbie was Department of Health director general of programmes and performance from 2003 to 2007.

He has also held chief executive roles at the South East London Strategic Health Authority and the South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust.

He recently served on the NHS Future Forum and contributed specifically to the education and training working group. 

Health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “Mr Selbie’s role will be to take forward the plans to establish Public Health England and its structure and provide strategic leadership and vision for the protection and improvement of the nation’s health.

“This is an incredibly crucial position which carries significant responsibilities and I look forward to him bringing his characteristics of leadership, independence and strategic direction to the role.”

Frank McKenna, group director of healthcare at recruitment consultant Harvey Nash, said the choice of Mr Selbie for the PHE post was likely to be met with “some surprise”, due to his lack of public health background.

Other names had been strongly associated with the job including Health Protection Agency chief executive Justin McCracken and Ruth Hussey, currently interim director with the PHE transition team.

But Mr McKenna said moving the bulk of public health responsibility to councils carried “big political risks” for the government, and Mr Selbie had a reputation as a “formidable operator” with the “ability to get things done and make tough decisions where necessary”.  

“He understands the corridors of Richmond House and beyond,” Mr McKenna said. “There was always a sense he’d get a calling back to the centre.”

Faculty of Public Health president Lindsey Davies said: “We are pleased that a chief executive has been appointed at last, although we acknowledge concerns that Duncan Selbie does not appear to have the kind of public health background that our members might have expected.

“We look forward to working with the entire Public Health England team once they are appointed.”