Senior NHS figures have been sent letters asking for their resignation as part of the move towards controversial health reforms, Labour has revealed.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said hundreds of chairs and directors of primary care trusts across England have been sent pro-forma resignation letters, even though reforms have not yet made their way through Parliament.

Letters include an explanation of what is required, as well as pre-written resignation letters.

Mr Burnham said the move threatened to create a leadership vacuum and accused Andrew Lansley of “steering the NHS towards the rocks”.

The move has also prompted a letter from a group of chairs in Cumbria and Lancashire, which said although they had mixed views about the Health and Social Care Bill, they were united in thinking that “long held and cherished standards, efficiency and effectiveness” should not be put under “dire threat”.

Mr Burnham said the latest move threatened to plunge the NHS into a vacuum and called on the Health Secretary to stop the “forced resignations”.

“Andrew Lansley looks increasingly like a man on a kamikaze mission to destabilise the NHS,” he said.

“Not only has he chosen the worst possible moment to reorganise the NHS, he now removes the very people who were crucial to holding things together.

“By combining the financial challenge with the biggest ever reorganisation, the government has created the conditions for a perfect storm that threatens to engulf the NHS in 2012.

“The government is steering the NHS towards the rocks and, unbelievably, is now busy throwing captain and crew overboard.

“This is no way to treat people and no way to run an NHS. It threatens to plunge the NHS into a vacuum just when it most needs experience, grip and focus.

“And it is arrogance in the extreme and an affront to democracy to dismantle the NHS in this way before Parliament has given its approval.

“I call on the health secretary to call an immediate halt to these forced resignations. It is an unwarranted act of vandalism that threatens to cause great damage.”

He also urged health professions to “stand up to this reckless government” and support Labour’s alternative plan.

“It is quite simply unforgivable to spend £3.45bn on a reorganisation with no democratic mandate,” he added.

“Time is running out for the NHS but it’s not too late. If we stand together and stop the Health Bill, we can save money and give the NHS the stability it urgently needs.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Primary care trust clusters bring together a group of PCTs under a single executive team to ensure clear accountability for the health services provided for their communities.

“The strong feedback we have received from the NHS is that forming a common board across all PCTs in the cluster is the most effective way to carry out their responsibilities, and we have therefore asked PCT clusters to move towards this model of governance.

“As common boards form, the number of different non-executives needed will reduce. We have given clusters flexibility to take more time to complete this process, where necessary, and form a strong and representative common board.

“Strategic health authorities are supporting them to manage this transition.”