The NHS Commissioning Board has admitted problems recruiting a diverse workforce, and said it will try to ensure the trend stops.

At yesterday’s public board meeting in Newcastle human resources director Jo-Anne Wass said its latest information on the proportion of appointees from different backgrounds “does not make for easy reading”.

The data caused alarm among fellow board members. It showed that the board’s early recruits were more often white, male, and aged in their forties than those who applied for jobs. However the process did appear to be favouring applicants with disabilities.

“This is a really significant issue,” Ms Wass said. She said the board had already taken action including training recruiting managers and contacting minority ethnic candidates in leadership programmes. But she said: “I’m not sure they’re enough… clearly more needs to be done.”

Ms Wass added that she hoped publishing recruitment data would “shine a light on the issue” and lead to a change in behaviour among recruiters.

Non-executive director Ed Smith said: “We’re in a situation where I would like to see us discuss targets [for a staffing mix that] reflects the communities we work in. It’s been a successful way of doing things in the private sector [although] it’s not perfect.”

Lord Adebowale, also a non-executive director, said: “It’s not just about numbers - not just about race – it’s also about culture and brand.” He warned: “It becomes anxiety provoking – this is about how we provide services to the public, and I’m getting anxious about where this might be heading.”

Ms Wass said she would discuss the issue further with national director of improvement Jim Easton, who is also the board’s executive lead on inequalities, “as a matter of urgency”.

She said: “We need to take some immediate actions… We’ve got to get under the data, find what the problem is, and where it’s happening.”

Chairman Malcolm Grant commended her for bringing the issue to the board’s attention.

Also at the meeting, Professor Grant expressed concern about the organisation’s proposal to transfer groups of staff directly from the existing organisations into the commissioning board. The board has said the approach, called “lift and shift”, may be required because of delays drawing up new structures and appointing to them.

The approach – which is already being applied to primary care trust primary care commissioning staff – is likely to mean the board having to make redundancies in 2013-14.

Professor Grant indicated he was opposed to it. He said: “Lift and shift is not a recruitment strategy. It doesn’t deliver any of the qualities we wish to bring into the organisation.”