NHS chief executive Nigel Crisp this week wrote to all health authority chief executives urging them to apply for the 28 jobs leading strategic health authorities in what Mr Crisp promised would be a 'fair and objective' process.

The posts will be advertised from today, and recruitment will see candidates assessed against a range of 'leadership competencies' which will be published at the end of this month.

Mr Crisp told HSJ: 'These are really important jobs. All jobs in the NHS are important, but these are key to the whole thing;

they will be involved in shaping the system.

''We are looking for senior managers who know the system, who know how to make it work.'

Mr Crisp said the assessments of unsuccessful candidates would be fed into their own career development to find them jobs within the service, insisting:

'This is not about making people redundant'.

He said HA chief executives who did not apply for the posts would also be given career development support to slot them into roles elsewhere.

He said the process was designed to be 'fair and objective', with no advantage for managers who were already projectmanaging the creation of SHAs:

'I will expect to see appointments from people throughout the service and perhaps some who have left the service and wish to return.'

The Department of Health has also announced a series of appointments to key new posts.

Sue Osborn and Sue Williams, who currently share the post of chief executive of Barking and Havering HA, will share the job of chief executive of the National Patient Safety Agency, taking up post at the beginning of October.

NHS director of operations Ron Kerr has been appointed chief executive of the National Care Standards Commission, which will take over regulation of social care services and private and voluntary healthcare from next April.

And Bob Thompson, assistant vice-chancellor at Southampton University, has been appointed project director on a part-time basis to develop the university of the NHS.