The man chosen to drag the struggling Surrey and Sussex NHS Trust out of debt wants to leave his job after just eight months.

Gary Walker, appointed as chief executive in September because of his exemplary troubleshooting' record, says he will not be applying for the permanent position, but will stay on until a new chief executive has been appointed. His one-year fixed term contract ends on August 31.

Despite the trust still losing £2million a year, Mr Walker claims it has improved. He said: "I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the clinicians and managers leading this organisation and the staff who have continued to perform so professionally to meet the challenges we face. The organisation has made vast improvements over the last year and I am confident that this will continue under a new chief executive."

Roy Davies, chairman of the trust which runs East Surrey Hospital in Redhill, said: "Gary has provided the leadership and direction that was necessary to turn this organisation around and his contribution has been commended by the board."

Mr Walker joined the trust with a new team, replacing Ken Cunningham, who was also specifically chosen.

A new chief executive, who the trust claims will "take the organisation forward over the next five years" is expected to be appointed between September and December.

The news comes as the trust was criticised for spending almost £700,000 on accountants brought in to save money, while at the same time axing 400 jobs.

Zena Dodgson, secretary of the Surrey and Sussex Healthcare branch of Unison, said: "Gary Walker is fortunate enough to have the option to make his own career decisions. Many of my members and colleagues won't have that choice.

"They are trying to cope with the anxiety of an uncertain future: living under the sword of Damocles is extremely stressful."

Campaign group Health Emergency is angry at the amount of money paid out and believes it is the equivalent of the starting salary of 40 newly qualified nurses.

Geoff Martin, head of campaigns at the group, said: "It's a scandal that big firms of accountants are being paid fat fees to recommend to trusts to sack front line nurses."

He added: "We demand a full inquiry into the full amount that these Government hit-squads are bleeding out of patient care budgets up and down the country."

But the trust has been quick to defend its actions. While confirming it paid £697,896 to accountancy firm KPMG, up to and including March 31, it believes it has been worth it.

Mr Walker said: "The turnaround team has already identified additional savings of around £20.9million. The focus of the turnaround work is on improving efficiency which will enable the trust to provide high quality healthcare for local people within its funding, as well as strengthening the trust's long-term financial security."