The Department of Health has given NHS managers a choice of two letters to send staff this month on the future of their roles – one of which is to be used in cases where there is still “no clarity” on what will happen to their jobs.

Two draft template letters were sent to primary care trust and strategic health authority managers this week. One is for use in cases “where there is no clarity about the destination of their current function”.

The letters will be sent out to PCT and SHA staff by the end of January. Neil McKay, the national senior responsible officer for the HR transition, told PCT and SHA leaders last November that the letters should give employees “as much information as possible about their future employment prospects”.

However both letters open by emphasising the uncertainty that still prevails over the future structure of the NHS, fewer than 15 months before PCTs and SHAs are abolished.

The letters begin: “The Health and Social Care Bill, if implemented, will mean change for most of us in terms of where, and for whom, we work. 

“Ideally I would like to be able to let you know specifically how you will be affected by the changes but at the moment there is a lack of clarity about the future organisations.”

The “no clarity” letter then assures staff they will be informed as soon as possible, while the other includes a paragraph telling staff which organisation their function will transfer to.

Both letters close with a note of thanks to staff: “I know how hard you are all working to support the changes and to deliver existing work to the highest possible standards and I would personally like to thank you for your continuing commitment and contributions.”

HSJ has also seen an accompanying email from a DH official, which quotes legal guidance the department has taken on the issue of staff transfer.

“When we distribute the letters on Wednesday [January 18], we will include in the guidance the bits that must not be altered to avoid any potential future challenges,” the email said.

The legal guidance says: “I do not believe that any of the letters could be construed as promising jobs for employees in the future, but I have made comments that I hope will avoid any possible ambiguities.

“For example, it is important to distinguish references to ‘functions’ and ‘roles’. A function may transfer but it will not necessarily follow that everyone working in that function will transfer and you want to avoid creating that expectation if there is a chance you cannot fulfil it.”

Earlier this month HSJ revealed that a DH document said there was “no clarity” over 11,000 full time equivalent roles.