THE chief executive of East Lancashire’s troubled hospital trust has quit following a barrage of criticism from campaigners and NHS inspectors.

Mark Brearley, who has been in charge of the Royal Blackburn and Burnley General since 2011, yesterday announced he was ‘standing down’ with immediate effect, but no reasons were given for his departure.

East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust [ELHT] was placed in special measures in July, after NHS chiefs made wide-ranging criticisms of the way the organsation had been run.

At the time, Mr Brearley said he had no intention of quitting because he ‘still had a job to do’.

Then in October, Mr Brearley faced calls to resign after another report by the Care Quality Commission revealed serious failings in the emergency ward at the Royal Blackburn Hospital.

But he again resisted and told the Lancashire Telegraph: “I’ve still got a job to do to make sure the improvements are carried through.”

One of those who called for Mr Brearley to resign in October was Russ McLean, chairman of the Pennine Lancashire Patient Voices Group.

He said: “Mark was responsible for the things that continued to happen on his watch and I think for patients and the public this was the only thing that will draw a line under everything, and perhaps we can all move forwards now.

“I did call for Mark’s resignation but it wasn’t a personal thing so I feel mixed emotions. In my opinion he wasn’t a figurehead for the organisation and I think it needs a strong and experienced character to come in.”

Jonathan Wood, the trust’s finance director, has taken the £165,000 top job on an interim basis, becoming the ELHT’s fifth chief executive since 2008.

The trust has been following a detailed improvement plan since the summer, with the NHS Trust Development Agency providing oversight.

The agency released a short statement saying Mr Brearley had decided it was time for ‘someone else to take up the leadership challenge’, adding when pressed that it had not told him to step down.

The Lancashire Telegraph asked ELHT if Mr Brearley had resigned, whether he had left voluntarily, and whether there would be been a financial settlement, but the trust refused to answer these questions.

Gordon Birtwistle, Burnley MP, said: “I would urge the hospital to tell us the reason for this. If it’s personal reasons then that’s between him and his family. But if he’s gone for not being up to the job then we should know.

“I’m surprised because I thought he was managing the reorganisation and was committed to making improvements.”

Blackburn MP Jack Straw said: “I’m sorry that he’s leaving and I wish him well for the future. I hope that when a new chief executive and chairman are appointed the organisation is able to look forward to a more stable future.”

Former Burnley MP Peter Pike, who also called for Mr Brearley to quit in October, said: “I am convinced it was inevitable that he had to stand down. At the end of the day he was the chief executive and the last report was not the first condemnation the trust had had.

“Previous chief executives have received large payouts, which I do not think has been right, and I hope any payoff is kept to the absolute minimum.”

Acting chairman of ELHT, Martin Hill, said: “The whole trust board would like to thank Mark for his hard work and dedication over the last two-and-a-half years, during which time he has overseen some real improvements in the care we provide for patients. “Over the last few months in particular, Mark’s leadership in responding to the Keogh Review has been critical in developing our action plan to respond to those areas where we all know we need to improve. We wish Mark all the very best for the future.”

Former chairman Hazel Harding announced her resignation on the day ELHT was placed in special measures in July, citing ill health, with deputy chief executive Lynn Wissett announcing her retirement the same day.

Mr Brearley was yesterday unavailable for comment.