Six NHS commissioning support units are forming a “strategic alliance” with the aim of working jointly on major contracts and developing services.

The CSUs involved in the collaboration, which they have named the Elis group, are North and East London, North of England, South West, Staffordshire and Lancashire, Cheshire and Merseyside, and South.

The group said its membership was mainly based on existing relationships, like-minded leadership, and an aim of having a national spread, with few CSUs which are in direct competition.

There have been several CSU mergers in the past year and some observers expect the current landscape of 17 providers to change further.

However, the Elis group stressed it was “not a pre-cursor to a merger”.

In a statement describing its work it said: “As the commissioning landscape in general and CSU market in particular continues to develop and mature, it is essential that CSUs build scale and impact to help CCGs, NHS England and others deliver the transformational change to quality and value that the NHS critically needs.”

It says the organisations had been “attracted by common goals, shared values and convenient geographic spread” and “have entered into dialogue with a view to developing a working partnership / strategic alliance”.

The statement says: “The purpose of our working together is to share ideas and innovation; potentially share resources flexibly; use our collective buying power and potentially bid for national work together using our national reach.

“As individual CSUs we will continue to compete appropriately against each other for business, and this alliance is not a pre-cursor to a merger – it is simply an attempt to bring together leading edge resource to be more effective.”

North of England Commissioning Support managing director Stephen Childs told HSJ the collaboration would be “respectful of the market” and members would “compete against each other in some areas and in some work together”.

He said examples of joint work might include funding development of particular new products, or bidding for major service redesign projects where “more than one CSU could mobilise to deliver that. [There are] instances where a collaboration might work quite nicely”.