A struggling hospital trust has named the man taking over the reins of one of toughest jobs in regional health care.

Gary Walker starts work this month as the new chief executive of Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs Crawley Hospital.

The £110,000-a-year job is reputed to be one of the most demanding in the country, as the trust grapples with a continuing financial crisis.

Mr Walker takes over from Anthony McKeever, who has been interim chief executive since February this year after former head Ken Cunningham resigned.

Mr Walker is the former chief operating officer at Quo Health Ltd, a company which specialises in turning round health services.

He said: "I am delighted to have been asked to lead the trust back to full recovery.

"I have had the opportunity to meet and work with many staff, including the new clinical directors, and I am confident the trust has the capability to resolve long-standing performance issues.

"I know the staff and local people are eager to see the trust's full recovery as quickly as possible."

Mr Walker's arrival comes as the trust tackles a £68 million debt.

Finance bosses believe it will be £38 million over-budget as the trust copes with a £30 million debt, built up from previous years.

They claim it will take at least £17 million in savings this year to start getting itself back on financial track.

Crawley Hospital is undergoing major changes, with three operating theatres and a ward recently closed and routine surgery moved to East Surrey Hospital in Redhill and nearby hospitals.

The number of operations is being cut so there will be less demand for costly agency staff to cover shifts while patients who have been waiting less than six months for surgery at Crawley are being offered treatment elsewhere.

The number of outpatient appointments will also be reduced by 55,000.

Trust chairman Roy Davies said: "We are pleased to have appointed Gary as our new chief executive.

"His experience and leadership will play a vital role in resolving our financial and performance problems."

Campaigners fighting to keep hospital services in Crawley have condemned recent changes including the loss of accident and emergency, maternity and children's in-patient services. These have been transferred to Redhill, prompting 33,000 people to sign a petition calling for a new hospital to be built for the town at Pease Pottage.

Campaigner Michael Edwards, from Crawley, said: "I have no idea whether this new person is going to make any difference.

"We have been steadily losing services for years and the financial situation seems serious. It's frustrating as it always seems to be Crawley which loses out, rather than the trust's other hospital at Redhill."

The trust has been given a zero rating for two years running in the annual hospital league tables, published by the Healthcare Commission.