NHS Commissioning Board chief executive Sir David Nicholson has told HSJ he is “really sorry” for the poor experience suffered by NHS staff whose jobs are under threat as a result of the reforms. However, he claimed that given the scale of the change, the human resources pprocess had been a “reasonably well ordered thing”.

Last week HSJ reported that 3,500 NHS managers working in primary care trusts and strategic health authorities were at risk of redundancy. There are between 5,000 and 7,000 vacancies in the new system, but not all “at risk” staff will find suitable jobs with the board or elsewhere in the NHS.

Sir David said: “There are jobs available for lots of people at the moment, and we’re thinking about how we can get people into those jobs. What’s going to be clear is we are going to make far fewer people redundant than people were fearful of at the beginning.”

The board chief acknowledged there had been problems with a number of elements of the HR process, such as the “job matching” system designed to find people new roles. However, he said this was a result of the scale and complexity of the restructuring.

“Think about the organisation we’re setting up here”, he said. “There are people from 160 different organisations coming together. When you mix up the terms and conditions of civil servants with NHS staff you’ve got yourself a complex set [of issues]. We’ve never done anything of this scale, the people running it were learning things as they went along.”

Acknowledging the concerns expressed by many HSJ readers about the process, Sir David said: “I know people complain and quite rightly about the circumstances they find themselves in, because right from the beginning when the policy was announced, it’s been very difficult.

He claimed staff affected by the transition had been “fantastic” and added that he knew “from my own position in all of this” how “deeply unsettling” it was when “you thought you were doing a good job [and] suddenly you’re told it’s not the right way and you have to do something else.”

Sir David said: “I’m really sorry for those people who have not had a good experience [but] I think overall when people look back on it they will see, when you think about 50,000 people who were directly involved…it was a reasonably well ordered thing. We’ve worked really closely with the trade unions…and they’ve behaved remarkably cooperatively to get all of this to happen.”