The development of the new strategic health authorities is to be spelled out in an NHS Executive document this week, with discussions due to be held between the NHS, local government and members of the public before the end of the summer.

Consultations on boundary changes are due in the autumn, and agreement on new boundaries and the appointment of chairs and chief executives by the end of the year.

There have already been suggestions that the 30 new bodies should not have the name 'health authority' because of the possible confusion between their role and that of the present HAs.

Many of the functions of the present HAs will shift to primary care trusts, with the SHAs responsible for performance management, including 'swift intervention' when things go wrong, according to Modernisation Board member and chief executive of Dorset HA Ian Carruthers.

SHAs will sign off the business plans of trusts and will be responsible for service redesign, clinical governance and IT. There will be a substantial shift in staff between HAs and the emerging PCTs, and one of the priorities will be production of a human resources strategy, which the NHS Executive expects to publish before the end of the month.

Gill Morgan, chief executive of North and East Devon HA, acknowledged that the pace of change would be 'traumatic' for some. But she added: 'With any massive transition the fear of uncertainty is the greatest problem. This will be a short, sharp process. . . The service will still need to do all the same things so for many people it will be a simple matter of a change in employer.'