Academic health science centres should become the “hubs” of specialised services, according to NHS England’s medical director.

Planning guidance unveiled at an NHS England board meeting on Tuesday states: “Academic health science centres will play an important role as the focus for many of these [specialised care centres].”

The document specifies that specialised services will be condensed into 15 to 30 centres where “the highest quality can be delivered”.

It goes on to note: “Specialised services are currently being delivered out of too many sites, with too much variety in quality and at too high a cost in some places.”

NHS England chief executive Sir David Nicholson said: “We want to move towards between 15-30 major specialised centres across the country. We currently commission specialised commissioning services from over 300 organisations so it’s a massive and significant change.”

The organisation’s medical director Sir Bruce Keogh said AHSCs should become the “hubs” of specialised services but admitted the changes set out in the planning guidance would provide “a challenge”.

However, he said that condensing specialised services into fewer centres was necessary because of advances in treatments.

He said: “Things that are specialist in one year may not be specialist in a year’s time. We mustn’t cast any of this stuff in concrete.”