Hundreds of 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 chairs and directors of primary care trusts (PCTs) 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 Health Secretary 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".
Under the reorganisation of the NHS, GPs will be handed the bulk of the health budget to buy in services for patients, with a new NHS commissioning board overseeing the process. PCTs are being streamlined into "clusters" as part of the transition, with the aim of getting them to work with GP practices and emerging "GP consortia".
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.
"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. 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."
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."Suggest a correction