THE news and the method of its dissemination caused some wry, if tight

lipped, smiles in health service and political circles.

''They appoint a man from Virgin, the company that brought you a sunk

boat, a punctured balloon and condoms, to run the health service in

Scotland. And it is leaked first to the Sun. That says a lot.''

There was not much mirth in Mr Sam Galbraith's typically abrasive

response to the appointment of Mr Don Cruickshank to the new post of

Chief Executive of the National Health Service in Scotland.

But then nobody was laughing much at the prospect of a businessman

from the world of entertainment at the helm of the Scottish health

service. The trepidation sprang also from Mr Cruickshank's track record

as chairman of Wandsworth Health Authority in London.

Mr Cruickshank had given as his first priority, his determination to

put patients first. ''It is ironic then that he's recently overseen the

closure of the 400-bed St James Hospital and ignored the protests of

local people at losing the accident and emergency unit which means

having to travel miles for a casualty service,'' says Mr Chris Binks,

regional secretary of the Confederation of Health Service Unions.

If they had to have a chief executive, he concedes, they would have

preferred someone with a background in the health service in Scotland

who could identify its peculiar problems and areas of special needs.

Mr Cruickshank does have three year's experience of the health service

-- as part-time chairman of Wandsworth Health Authority. He was

appointed in 1986, some six years into a major shake-up of hospital

services. The authority has lost nine hospitals and 3000 beds since

1980. The policy is to close smaller hospitals and concentrate services

in the 1000-bed St George's Hospital at Tooting.

''To be fair to Mr Cruickshank he came into Wandsworth when the most

savage cuts were already made. But he has consolidated the contractions

in the service and overseen more closures since taking over the chair,''

said a senior official in the health authority.

No-one at the health authority offices or in their public relations

department would speak on the record about Mr Cruickshank: ''We've been

told to refer all calls to the Scottish Office,'' said a spokeswoman.

However, in May of this year Wandsworth expressed an interest in

setting up a Trust which would eventually take over and run all the

medical services now run directly by the health authority, selling them

back to Wandsworth and other authorities.

Initially, the Trust would take over neuro-surgical and heart surgery

services. It would eventually run the services of St George's Hospital,

community health services, and mental health services.

It is the kind of radical restructuring of the NHS that is dear to the

heart of Mr Forsyth. Unlike Mr Forsyth, however, Mr Cruickshank is

regarded as a non-controversial figure. Having worked as number two to

Richard Branson he is well-used to being the ballast to a more

flamboyant figure.

He joined the Virgin group as managing director in May 1984.

He had swopped law for accountancy at Aberdeen Univer-

sity. He qualified as a chartered accountant and gained a diploma from

the Manchester Business school before joining Alcan Aluminium in Wales.

His next move was to McKinsey and Co., one of the world's largest firms

of management con-


He joined Times Newspapers as Commercial Director and General Manager

of the Sunday Times in the pre-Murdoch days before becoming managing

director of Pearson Longmans who owned the Financial Times newspaper.

His move to Virgin in 1984 caused some comment in city circles: ''The

Virgin company was regarded as being on the comic, transient end of the

spectrum for public companies. It seemed a very odd move for a fairly

stolid man like Don Cruickshank,'' said a former colleague at Times


At Virgin, he did a lot of work on pulling together the disparate

functions of the group and taking it public. He was also involved in

working on the sale of the Virgin record shops for #23m to Our Price and

putting together a strategy for developing Virgin megastores.

A claim that he slashed costs by two-thirds at Virgin was dismissed as

rubbish by a Virgin insider who said the company had expanded

consistently throughout Mr Cruickshank's tenure.

He was regarded as a serious minded director: ''A bit on the cerebral

side, he thought everything through in the finest detail,'' said a

Virgin director.

He was an opera buff who was a very good team man and an excellent

strategist who took a very methodical and analytical approach to

management problems, he added.

However, his #90,000-a-year job was to come to an end in January this

year when Virgin reverted to private company status. In the wake of the

company's delisting it was announced that Mr Cruickshank and two other

directors would be leaving.

In May last year Virgin profits were down by 22% to pre-tax #14m. In

October Richard Branson announced he was to buy back the Virgin Group.

Mr Cruikshank acted as an independent director, a point of contact for

investors in the city, who gave advice on the buy-out.

He was to receive a golden handshake of #100,000 in addition to sums

due under his service agreement which was not due to expire until

November this year.

''It seemed from the outside that the flotation had been a bit of a

disaster for Virgin. It was decided that Mr Cruickshank and two other

directors would be leaving after the buy-out,'' explained a city


Mr Cruickshank's most recent role ended in May with the failure of a

bid by a managemement team to buy-out the TV Times. He had headed the

team attempting to beat Reed International in a rival offer.

Mr Cruickshank was appointed to his health service job following a

competition conducted by the Civil Service Com-

mission, according to the Scottish Office.

''He has a colossal task ahead of him,'' said Andrew Vallance-Owen,

Secretary of the British Medical Association in Scotland.

''On one hand there are Ministers expecting him to impose the NHS

Review on the Scottish health service. On the other are people working

in the service, expressing grave concern and resisting these proposals

because of serious worries about patient care.''

They were concerned at his appointment in view of his reputation as a

cost cutter at a time when more investment was needed in the health


''That said, we will work with him and will bring to his attention the

needs of the patient to make sure management is sensitive to those