The NHS Commissioning Board has denied the jobs of 600 staff working on clinical networks are at risk but concerns remain that uncertainty over their future will lead to a loss of expertise.

There are currently 28 cancer networks, 28 heart and stroke networks and a handful of smaller networks employing around 700 people between them. They have been funded by primary care trust and strategic health authorities.

In the new NHS the commissioning board will fund strategic clinical networks in cancer; maternity and children; cardiovascular disease, incorporating diabetes as well as heart and stroke; and mental health, dementia and neurological conditions.

There will be 12 networks for each condition organised around patient flows into tertiary centres. Concern among existing network staff has been building since the publication of staffing structures in the board’s chief operating officer’s directorate last month which revealed the four networks in each area will share a support team of just eight whole time equivalent staff.

The commissioning board says there will be programme budgets to pay for additional staff. However, detail has yet to emerge of what sorts of posts will be available; guidance from the commissioning board says most of these roles will be clinical and part time or session based.

Mike Hobday, director of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, told HSJ there was concern that staff would understandably start to look elsewhere for jobs.

“Macmillan are really worried at the scale of loss of staff expertise. Networks are more than just clinicians; they’re people that hold the ring when hospitals argue, support people to get involved in designing care, do peer reviews and advise commissioners on how to ensure high quality, joined up care,” he said.

Funding for the work of networks will remain roughly the same at about £42m a year. The level of clinical input required by each team will be decided by the network director and a part-time clinical director. They were due to be in post by the end of September but no one has yet been appointed.

A director of one cancer network told HSJ people were already beginning to leave.

“We have told all of our staff they should be looking out for other jobs there is no guarantee any of us will be here after March,” they said.

A spokeswoman for the NHS Commissioning Board said there was “no substance” to claims the number of staff would fall from 700 to 96 but was unable to confirm how many posts there would be in the reconfigured networks.

She said there would be “many roles for those with expertise, knowledge and experience of supporting and managing clinical networks”.

“We are redesigning networks to cover a broader range of conditions, and with the aim of providing better support to the NHS. We are appointing leaders of those networks who will work with a range of clinicians and patients to design the new structures. Only at that point will we make decisions about the size of these networks.”