NHS England has enlisted headhunters to find a national director for its troubled specialised services remit after failing to make an appointment.

HSJ understands NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens was keen to recruit a big player from the provider sector for the role of national director of specialised services.

The position has however proven unattractive, due to uncertainty over the future of specialised services commissioning and the wider reorganisation of staff in NHS England.

While interviews had been scheduled for last month no appointment has been made leading NHS England to appoint headhunting firm Odgers Berndtson to lead the search for a suitable candidate.

In a letter introducing the job description, Mr Stevens described the role as one of the “biggest” in the NHS and a “fantastic” opportunity for “some of the most skilled and experienced leaders”.

The role will involve setting up the new specialised commissioning directorate with a staff of about 250 and will be paid at the very senior manager level, the payscale for the most senior managers in the NHS.

The job description says the successful applicant will need to be expert at “managing people in challenging and conflict situations” and have “significant board level experience”.

However, it is not clear whether or not the new national director will have a seat on NHS England’s board.

John Murray, director of the Specialised Healthcare Alliance, said there appeared to be a lack of clarity from NHS England about “what the job is”.

He added: “If they can’t get the right person the worry is the whole job is watered down and maybe the directorate won’t have representation at board level.”

In April NHS England set up a taskforce to lead a three month turnaround in specialised commissioning after the budget was massively overspent last year.

The taskforce - now extended until October - has seven workstreams including one looking at whether some specialised services would be better commissioned by clinical commissioning groups.

The job description says the successful applicant will be responsible for completing the national strategy for specialised services and “redesigning the specialised commissioning process, including exploring how the commissioning of these services can be shared with CCGs”.

Mike Birtwistle, founding partner at Incisive Health, told HSJ uncertainty about what the role involved would make the brief difficult for headhunters to sell to candidates.

“Without clarity on the future shape and size of specialised commissioning, it is difficult to know what job a candidate is applying for,” he said.

“We don’t know whether they will be responsible for commissioning £13bn of services or £6bn, or whether it will be a board level post.”

Taskforce lead Paul Watson told HSJ its remit had been extended to “manage the change in specialised [commissioning] in tandem”, with the wider restructure of NHS England’s local area teams announced last month in response to the need to cut NHS England’s running costs by at least 10 per cent.

He declined to comment on the recruitment process.

HSJ understands Catherine O’Connell, regional director of commissioning for the Midlands and East, is to take over the day to day running of the taskforce to allow Dr Watson to spend more time on his main job as regional director of Midlands and East.