The government plans to set up two temporary special health authorities in the autumn to “support a smooth and safe transition” to the new NHS landscape.

The first SpHA will house the shadow NHS Commissioning Board while the second will act as a forerunner to the Health Research Authority which will bring together some functions from the Human Tissue Authority, the Human Embryo and Fertilisation Authority and the National Patient Safety Agency.

The board and the HRA will eventually be non-departmental public bodies but cannot be constituted as such before the Health Bill has been passed.

In a letter to unions representing staff in the organisations involved, department of health director general for policy, strategy and finance Richard Douglas said the SpHAs were “intended only as preparatory vehicles to support a smooth and safe transition”.

A briefing note with the letter revealed about 150 staff are expected to transfer to the shadow commissioning board from the DH and strategic health authorities on or soon after its formation, scheduled for October.

The document sets out two phases for the shadow board’s existence. The first, which will run until the end of the year, focuses on “designing the commissioning landscape” and “business preparation” such as estates arrangements and agreeing sub-national arrangements.

During this period it is anticipated the SpHA will either second or directly employ the senior team including non executives and executive directors and their support staff, staff currently working in the NHS Commissioning Board implementation team in the DH and staff developing clinical commissioning groups and commissioning support.

Those employed directly will automatically transfer to the commissioning board when it is established as an executive non-departmental public body while those on secondment will transfer back to their original organisation.

During phase two in 2012, it is anticipated the SpHA will work on planning for 2013-14, including development of operational guidance for the NHS, develop a commissioning outcomes framework for clinical commissioning groups, and negotiating primary care contracts.

It will also take on responsibility for appointments of any strategic health authority or primary care trust non-executive directors from the Appointments Commission and responsibility for patient safety from the National Patient Safety Agency, which is to be abolished.

The board would be responsible for overseeing the National Reporting and Learning System which will be hosted by a separate NHS organisation.

The Health Research Authority will take on the National Research Ethics Service, which is currently a division of the safety agency.  The briefing note states “a small core group of staff” will move from NRES to the SpHA on establishment but it is likely the senior posts will be opened up to competition following the passage of the bill.