THE chief executive of Salisbury District Hospital has gone on “extended leave” only six months after starting the job.

Hospital bosses are remaining tight lipped about the reasons for Caspar Ridley’s absence but have confirmed the chief executive, who earns between £150,000 and £155,000 a year, is currently not at work.

A member of hospital staff told the Journal: “We heard he was supposed to return from holiday two weeks ago but didn’t come back.

“No one knows what’s going on.”

On Friday, hospital staff were told Mr Ridley was on leave and that chief operating officer Peter Hill was taking over in the interim.

Mr Ridley, 44, started the job in March. He replaced Matthew Kershaw, who joined the hospital in 2008 but was seconded to the Department of Health in Whitehall two years later.

Before coming to Salisbury, Mr Ridley was director of strategy and business development at University Hospital Southampton.

The father-of-three is also a former deputy vice president for Shell International and global head of public and government affairs for agribusiness Syngenta.

This year Mr Ridley and the Trust board have led the hospital into a controversial pay consortium, which staff fear could see their salaries cut by up to 12 per cent.

Salisbury District Hospital has joined with 19 others in the south west to explore ways to cut the wages bill to around 60 per cent of its annual budget, which could involve reducing overtime payments, sick pay and holiday entitlement for long-serving staff.

Unison representative Mark Wareham, who is leading the campaign against the pay cartel, said: “We don’t know if Mr Ridley’s absence has anything to do with the cartel – it would be great if this means that Salisbury now leaves it, but until that happens the fight goes on.

“It’s the whole board that is behind it – not just him - and all of them need to see sense.”

A petition with around 1,500 signatures opposing the pay cartel will be handed to hospital bosses later this month.