Black and minority ethnic NHS staff risk being “significantly disadvantaged” in the transfer of employees to the health service’s new structure, senior NHS Commissioning Board executives have said.

NHSCB transformation director Jim Easton warned the board’s July meeting yesterday of a “potential reduction in black nursing directors” in the transition.

“On one level it’s completely understandable,” he said. “There are fewer directors of statutory organisations by some margin, so therefore it is likely that in any particular group you mention that the numbers in absolute terms will go down.

“But we shouldn’t use that for false assurance. So, for example, it appears as though one of the places which have been relatively accessible for people from BME backgrounds to get director posts has been the commissioning system.

“Therefore they are at risk of being significantly disadvantaged as we downsize director posts in the commissioning system. We’ll need to pay very close attention to our own process – otherwise we will be seeing, inadvertently, a loss of opportunity for people from a range of backgrounds.”

The comments came as the board announced it had recruited 47 very senior manager posts.

During the meeting non-executive director Lord Adebowale asked human resources director Jo-Anne Wass “how are we doing” in recruiting from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Ms Wass replied that she had not “cut the data just yet”. “What I’m trying to do at the moment is trying to work out how we’re going to collect it and what sort of things we should be looking for.”

She said the board was making “reasonable progress” on recruitment, having appointed a full board, and had “pretty much completed” the high-level design of the organisation.

However, she added, the process of transferring 4,000 staff, in addition to family health service commissioning staff and commissioning support services, was proving difficult and time consuming.

But she said recruitment would speed up now that senior posts had been filled.

There would be large numbers of jobs advertised from September, she continued, and advised anyone interested in working for the board to “get your CVs up to date” in readiness.

Recruitment was given a red rating on the board’s July risk register. The document said there was a risk that the board might “fail to populate its organisational structure by March 2013”. This was due to delays in finalising the body’s design, disagreements with “sending” organisations such as primary care trusts, and potential disputes with trades unions. A contingency plan is being developed.