The NHS Commissioning Board will continue to support and develop commissioning support services after “checkpoint three”, the end of the formal assurance process.

HSJ has learned that the board – which will be the official employer of all CSS staff until 2016 – is keen to ensure that staff are not transferred to bodies likely to fail in a future commissioning support marketplace.

The development support, which is likely to go on for as long as CSSs are hosted by the board, is intended to ensure CSSs are sustainable in the long term.

It has also emerged that checkpoint three will not test CSSs on their plans to become independent organisations. This is because the board is about to tender for a consultancy to produce a report on the “externalisation” of CSSs.

Joe Rafferty, director of the board’s business development unit, said this piece of work will consider the extent to which the commissioning support market should be regulated and whether any services “might present particular problems in externalisation”.

The report, expected to be produced this autumn, will assess options around CSSs forming commercial partnerships and joint ventures with the private sector. It will also evaluate the possible corporate models for CSSs, including the possibility they could be partially owned or bought outright by existing companies.

Firms including UnitedHealth, Capita, Ernst and Young and McKinsey were briefed about the imminent tender late last week.

The private sector had hoped to begin forging partnerships with CSSs between the end of checkpoint two, last month, and checkpoint three.

One well placed private sector source told HSJ the ongoing lack of clarity had been a cause of frustration.

He said: “Some people in the private sector are desperate for the board to say we believe the market will be this big, this wide, and will start from this point. That isn’t going to happen soon.”

CSSs are not expected to be assessed on detailed financial plans as part of checkpoint three. This is because they will be unable to guarantee how much income they will generate until clinical commissioning groups enter into agreements with them – and this cannot happen until the CSSs have passed the assurance process.

A commissioning board spokeswoman said: “The roles of the Information Centre and the role of CSSs are quite different, and both have a key role to play in mkaing sure people get the right information in the right place at the right time.

“We are continuing to assess the at scale offers for CSS organisations, who will serve their CCG customers.”