The Department of Health (DH) has announced the names of 14 organisations appointed to offer support services to the NHS through a new agreement, known as the Framework for procuring External Support for Commissioners (FESC).
The framework is comprised of organisations, which will offer a menu of services such as data analysis and contract management expertise to primary care trusts (PCTs).
The organisations on the FESC will not deal with the delivery of direct patient care.
Although a number of PCTs already seek external support in undertaking their commissioning activities, it is expected that the framework will provide easy access to a bank of specialist expertise.
Health Minister Ivan Lewis (pictured) says: "This new guidance will allow PCTs to benefit from a bank of knowledge already built up through the DH procurement process.
"PCTs will be able to work with organisations that are already known and trusted, which will enable them to concentrate their efforts and expertise on providing patient care.
"Of course, it will be up to PCTs to decide if they want to use suppliers within the framework and if they choose to do so, PCTs will remain fully responsible and accountable for managing the services provided."
A typical example of the kind of service which could be provided by one of the organisations appointed to the framework would be in the delivery of data analysis services to help PCTs assess the specific community needs of the local population, analyse trends and pinpoint areas of particular need.