The private firms Optum and Capita have placed bids to join NHS England’s lead provider framework for commissioning support services, HSJ understands.

Under the framework NHS England is expected to award quality assured status to between 10-15 support service providers.  It is expected to go live in January next year.

Optum has confirmed its bid to HSJ.  A company spokeswoman said: “While the [lead provider framework] is still in a live procurement process and we cannot go into any detail on it, we view the framework as a good mechanism for providing support for services across the NHS.”

HSJ understands that Capita has also submitted a bid for accreditation onto the framework. The firm refused to confirm or deny this.

An NHS England spokeswoman said that “having a sufficiently wide and diverse range of potential providers should mean commissioners can benefit from the widest pool of skills, expertise and experience”.

She added that the body has been “extremely encouraged by the strong response from across the market, both from public and private sector bidders including public private partnerships”.

Stephen Childs, managing director of North of England Commissioning Support Unit said: “We do need that competition to keep driving innovation and efficiency.

“I think there would be a lost opportunity if we lost that competition and that edge, and we reverted back to those old practices that didn’t deliver best value.”

Bill Morgan, former special adviser to Andrew Lansley and founding partner of the consultancy Incisive Health, said new commissioning support players could effect the market.

“The framework agreement itself doesn’t mean the market will become any more or less mixed than it was before. It just makes it easier to procure commissioning support,” he said.

“If in doing so more organisations enter the market, then this process may disrupt incumbent CSUs but it’s a big if.”