The NHS Commissioning Board is working under “strict limits” on what it can do as the government’s Health Bill battles “turbulence” in Parliament, its chair has said.

Professor Malcolm Grant made the comments at the board’s public meeting in Leeds yesterday (2 February).

The board will be established in full form later in the year as long as the bill is passed. But a board special health authority was set up, under existing legislation, in November to begin preparations.

HSJ understands board officials are taking legal advice on a wide range of decisions on a regular basis, to check whether they can be made before the bill is passed. Conventionally once a bill has received its second reading in the House of Commons officials can begin implementation.

However, uncertainty around the Health Bill means the position is less clear, HSJ understands.

Professor Grant told yesterday’s meeting: “It [the board] is a transitional body and established under existing legislation.

“We have got responsibility to prepare for particular aspects of the Health and Social Care Bill subject to Royal Assent. [That imposes] strict limits on what we can do without pre-empting the role of parliament. The bill is still experiencing some turbulence as it progresses through the House of Lords.“

The bill’s report stage hearing in the Lords will start on Wednesday. The government hopes it will pass with minor amendments before May. But it is possible there will be another major overhaul or it will fall altogether.

Meanwhile, the board heard concerns about whether it would have enough running cost funds and staff. The NHS Confederation last week warned proposals for as few as 2,500 staff in local offices and 200 regionally could threaten safe care.

Board managing director Bill McCarthy said at the meeting the limits were due to running cost limits set by the government, but that there might be some “flexibility” by accessing contingency funds.

He said: “If it becomes clear we need a bit more resource in local offices, or centrally, there are processes to access that, but I’m not encouraging that at this stage.”

Sir David Nicholson admitted the board was still negotiating with the DH for funding for its public health and informatics roles.