NHS England has instructed commissioning support units not to offer voluntary redundancy to employees as they undertake a redundancy programme to cut 300 jobs.

The directive went out late last month after NHS England delayed the publication of its voluntary redundancy scheme, which was originally intended to be used as part of a centrally coordinated CSU job cuts programme currently under way.

Now, senior figures in NHS England do not expect the scheme to be ready before CSUs finalise their redundancy programmes. It is expected that CSUs will aim to hand out redundancy notices before the end of 2013-14.

With no voluntary redundancy option available, CSUs will have to make the cuts using compulsory redundancies or by not filling vacancies. HSJ has heard from individuals who had discussed voluntary redundancy with their managers now being told this option was no longer available to them.

It is understood that the delay will be cost neutral because removing a post through the voluntary redundancy scheme was not expected to be any more or less expensive than using compulsory redundancy.

The delay came about when the draft voluntary redundancy scheme was considered by NHS England’s human resources sub committee. Although the Department of Health had worked with NHS England to draw up the draft, the committee asked NHS England bosses to go back to ask the DH to clarify that the NHS England scheme fitted with its position.

The voluntary redundancy scheme that NHS England eventually produces will be sensitive because it will set out rules for re-employing staff who have received payouts as part of redundancy settlements. This could apply to any employee who leaves NHS England – and by extension CSUs, which are hosted by the national body – and who is re-employed anywhere in the NHS, including on the provider side.

The scheme might impose time restrictions on re-employing staff – in particular senior managers – being re-employed after a redundancy payout. It could also address how to “claw back” payouts made to a recipient who is subsequently re-employed in the NHS.

The issue is politically sensitive, partly because the Commons public accounts committee is known to be interested in severance payouts for senior public servants.

In January the committee published a report on gagging clauses and related payouts for NHS bosses, and it has also investigated redundancy pay for senior figures at the BBC.

During the transition from to the new NHS structure a year ago NHS England chief executive Sir David Nicholson wrote to staff requesting senior figures given redundancy payouts did not to return quickly to the NHS. Asking them  to be “mindful” of the potential reputational damage to both themselves and the NHS, he suggested they left a six month gap before re-entering the service.

Unison national officer Alan Lofthouse told HSJ that failure to offer voluntary redundancy to CSU employees would “upset goodwill”. “NHS England need CSUs to be performing well, and you need a really good workforce delivering for you,” he said. “This will frustrate CSU staff and CSU leaders.”

The CSU sector is expected to cut around 300 jobs, equating to 3 per cent of its total workforce. The redundancies relate to the disparity between the resources available to CSUs and the size of the workforce they inherited from primary care trusts when they went live in April last year.