The Department of Health is set to draft in another American to head up the commercial directorate and oversee its merger with the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency.

As HSJ went to press the DoH was in final negotiations with R Channing Wheeler, a US healthcare executive and former UnitedHealth Group vice president.

His appointment is understood to have been approved by prime minister Tony Blair. He will replace Ken Anderson, who left the job in December to move to investment bank UBS.

Mr Wheeler will be tasked with merging the commercial directorate with PASA.

The DoH hopes to create a 'super-commercial agency' with a total budget of£2.16bn and tasked with managing all commercial directorate activities across the DoH.

Mr Wheeler's appointment could yet prove controversial as UnitedHealth Group is still being investigated by the US Securities and Exchange Commission over the alleged granting of backdated share options.

A civil action has been filed in the US against Mr Wheeler by public sector union shareholders in UnitedHealth, who are seeking $5.5m in damages over the share options.