Partnerships between commissioning support units and the private sector will have an “essential” role in driving integrated care to enable the NHS to meet its efficiency challenge, HSJ has been told.

In an exclusive interview, Bob Ricketts, the NHS Commissioning Board’s director of commissioning support strategy and market development, and Andrew Kenworthy, its interim director of the CSU transition programme, agreed that CSUs were “essential” to the NHS’s ability to deliver on the quality, innovation, productivity and prevention programme.

Mr Ricketts said: “Commissioners are not going to deliver the QIPP challenge unless they commission differently.

“You want to create an integrated care pathway where there’s a focus on prevention, using the right mix of community and acute services, so you need to get the incentives right for that.

“You probably want five or nine year contracts – as part of that you probably want gain share and pain share, all the risk stuff. It makes sense to grow support services and get them to focus on that much more demanding, sophisticated commissioning for transformation. That’s the big agenda.”

Mr Ricketts said he foresaw several markets in commissioning support services developing over the coming years, with different markets around functions like communications and human resources “as opposed to the rather more sophisticated approach in place around commissioning for outcomes, commissioning care pathways”.

The markets would be different for each commissioning support “service line” – CSU functions were divided into seven service lines earlier in the assurance process, and are currently categorised into 30 types. There could be different procurement frameworks or industry standards for each service line.

He said a strategy for developing markets for excellent commissioning support services would be published in six months.

Mr Kenworthy was unable to give any detail on how CSU data management and integration centres would be funded. The centres will be run by some CSUs to process and link data from the health and social care sectors and feed it up to the NHS Information Centre – but there is widespread concern in among CSUs over how they will be paid for.