NHS Estates chief executive Kate Priestley has stepped down so that she can oversee the £650m sell-off of its property portfolio.
Priestley will ensure that suitable partners and investors are found for the 600 surplus and empty properties, including Victorian hospitals, former clinics, asylums and a large residential element. Her official title will be chief executive of NHS Estates' Trading Fund, a new public–private partnership being formed to run the sale.

It is understood that the portfolio will be sold off in bulk, in order for the government to achieve a quick sale.

NHS Estates director Peter Wearmouth will take over as acting chief executive but it remains unclear whether the move will be permanent.

The PPP was advertised in the European Union's Official Journal this week.

Wearmouth said: "This will reinforce the separation of our commercial activities and the policy function." "There are many potential partners and investors ready and waiting to exploit the [health] market." NHS Estates is also expected to advertise for procurement advisers for its Procure 21 initiative in the next few weeks.

These advisers will issue guidance on cost, financial and legal matters and will work with NHS Estates' Procure 21 project directors.

It follows the advertisement at the end of the month of tenders for contractor-led teams for north-west England and the West Midlands, the two test regions for Procure 21.

A source bidding for the Procure 21 pilots said teams were not expecting the two regional contracts to start until next year.

The source said: "There has been some concern about the delays in the project but we feel it is better that the deals are delayed than they come out half-cocked." The source said the deals were very much in the PFI mould. He said: "It's very much like PFI but with more continuity of teams working on projects."