SUSAN Deacon lost her place in the cabinet because she did not want to take on a completely new brief at a time when she was expecting her second child.

Breaking her silence over this week's cabinet turmoil, she told The Herald that with the right back-up she would have loved the symbolism of having a baby next year on the NHS as health minister.

But she did not criticise Jack McConnell's decision to move her from the post, gave support to her successor, Malcolm Chisholm, in continuing the job she started, and reserved the brunt of her criticism for Henry McLeish, the former first minister, and an administration that had ''lost its way''. Ms Deacon wanted to dispel any notion that she had regarded the offered job of social justice minister as ''beneath her'' or demotion.

She made clear that she had told Mr McConnell that with the right support and back-up she wanted to continue with the health brief through her pregnancy and childbirth, but re-learning an entirely new portfolio would not have been appropriate at this time for her.

She acknowledged that some questioned whether a front-line minister could continue while taking maternity leave. ''I don't mind admitting I thought long and hard about this,'' she said.

''I was at this big Labour Party event and women came up and said it was fantastic that I would be carrying on. I would be a role model and wasn't it great sending out the right signals as a health minister having a baby.

''I made the decision that given the right back-up it was do-able and that a virtue could have been made of the whole thing. I had already put so much into this and made personal sacrifices. Even the midwives and nurses were quite excited about getting their hands, literally, on the health minister.

''I would have had five months before I would have been off on maternity leave, time to continue to build on what I have been doing, but to cross right over into another area was not the right thing to do at this time.

''I can only say that I shared all this with Jack McConnell in advance. After that it was his call.''

Ms Deacon insisted the new first minister was perfectly within his rights to make that judgment call on whether she should continue as health minister, but she was scathing about the last year under Mr McLeish.

''There were ways in which the administration lost its way, lost focus, and lost time,'' she said. ''Jack is right about delivery, and about the importance of saying no when the time is not right or the money isn't there.

''All these things are a good start to his period in office. I genuinely hope his new team can take this forward.''

The dig about money not being there clearly referred to the Sutherland promises on free personal care for the elderly, but she was diplomatic in saying: ''I am sure Malcolm Chisholm will sort this out by April. I wish him well.''

In an exclusive interview with The Herald, the former minister gave an insight into the sheer workload of ministers in a devolved Scotland. She had handled more parliamentary questions in her first three months in office on health alone, than had Donald Dewar in his final year as Scottish secretary, and every weekend she received two suitcases of paperwork to read at home.