Clinical commissioning groups will be allowed to delay formal procurement of their support services until 2016, under new guidance published this week by NHS England.

The move could delay formal procurement of commissioning support units by 18 months. Previously NHS England had said all CCGs would have to undertake formal procurement no later than September 2014.

The policy shift is set out in a letter circulated to CCG leaders yesterday by Rosamond Roughton, NHS England’s director for commissioning development.

It states: “The overwhelming theme from CCGs… was that the timetable for any procurement should be sensible and not divert the focus away from the important forthcoming contracting round.

“We are proposing, therefore, that where CCGs wish to do so, they extend their [service level agreements] with [commissioning support units] until no later than April 2016.”

Ms Roughton said commissioning groups had told her they wanted to use the extension as an opportunity to renegotiate agreements with their CSUs, and that she would encourage this.

Her letter also described “teething problems” between CSUs and CCGs. “Priority should be given to forging even greater relationships so that CCGs’ concerns are identified and responded to rapidly,” she wrote.

“We are very keen to explore ways in which CCGs can come together across a CSU patch to take a more active role in shaping the development of their CSU and exploring new products and areas of business.”

NHS England will set out options around the “externalisation” of CSUs this autumn. This will determine how CSUs can become independent businesses.

The current deadline for externalisation is 2016. It is not yet clear if or how this will be affected by Ms Roughton’s decision to allow CCGs to put back formal procurement of support services.

NHS England has also said it would set out a more detailed package of support for CCGs in the autumn, including “opportunities to shape the strategic direction of your CSU”, and information about a CSU procurement framework.