Just one candidate was interviewed for the post of chief executive in each of the three new strategic health authority clusters, HSJ can reveal.

According to information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, permanent chief executives serving at the nine SHAs outside London were invited to apply for the roles but just one application was received for each. Dame Ruth Carnall retained her role with NHS London, which is not clustering.

Sir Neil McKay was appointed to NHS Midlands and the East, Sir Ian Carruthers to NHS South of England and Ian Dalton to NHS North of England. Their appointment was announced alongside new roles for some of the other former SHA chief executives.

Kieran Walshe, professor of management and health policy at Manchester University, told HSJ the appointment process reflected the centralisation of power to the NHS commissioning Board under the reforms.

The DH decided to cluster SHAs after the decision was taken to extend the deadline for their abolition to from October 2012 to April 2013. They began operating on 3 October, just three months after they were announced.

Chief executive of Managers in Partnership Jon Restell said members had been consulted on the appointment process for the cluster chief executives and the director level posts but would not want to go through such a rushed process again.

The SHA clusters will form the basis of the regional arms of the commissioning board. However, according to chief executive job descriptions, staff and functions could transfer to one of nine organisations including Monitor, Public Health England and Health Informatics England.

Imperial College professor of health policy Nick Bosanquet said while it made sense to get experienced people in post quickly for the transition he hoped there would be a “more open process” for the appointment of permanent positions.

The information provided to HSJ suggests that while Sir Ian and Mr Dalton received slight pay rises, taking their salary to £204,048, Sir Neil will continue to draw the slightly higher basic salary of £204,388, the same he was paid at NHS East of England.

A DH spokeswoman said: “We are confident that the recruitment exercise allowed us to appoint strong, experienced and highly capable people to the three posts.”