A new national property company is to be set up by the government to manage the primary care trust estate, HSJ understands.

The “PropCo” – a generic working name for an asset holding firm – will take the form of a company wholly owned by the Department of Health.

Other examples of DH-owned companies include the Bio Products Laboratory, which was formed out of part of NHS Blood and Transplant in 2011.

HSJ understands an announcement will be made “in the next few weeks”. The move will solve the problem of who will take over billions of pounds of property, such as primary care centres, clinics, community hospitals and offices, after PCTs are abolished in April 2013.

The PropCo will also take ownership of the public shares of assets built under the local improvement finance trust scheme. LIFT properties are 60 per cent privately owned, with the remainder split equally between PCTs and the DH.

As revealed by HSJ last week, there are more than 2,000 full time equivalent estates and facilities management roles in PCTs. A leaked DH document showed these roles were earmarked for transfer to “PropCo and other”.

NHS estate expert Rob Harrison, a partner at Bevan Brittan, said questions remained about how the private sector could get involved, in the form of management contracts or joint ventures.

He said: “This is a real opportunity to sort out what’s wrong – the portfolio has not been managed effectively up to now.”

Mr Harrison believed a clear national strategy for NHS property, including future private sector involvement, was likely to come after the official launch of the PropCo.

HSJ understands the DH has decided in principle that it is preferable for the PCT estate to be run by a single management organisation than by numerous PCT successor bodies.

The PropCo will be devolved into regional subsidiaries as a single centralised body would struggle to manage a diverse national portfolio effectively. But the DH has not yet finalised how many regional arms there will be or what geographical areas each will cover.

One well-placed source speculated that the PropCo’s regional arms could themselves have subsidiaries. These could work closely with clinical commissioning groups, reconfiguring the estate in line with local service redesigns. This could involve decommissioning redundant facilities and investing in capital projects such as telehealth.

Some community service assets are to be transferred to foundation trusts that took over services from PCTs last year.

However, this was not permitted where social enterprises took over community services. A DH spokeswoman said social enterprises would be granted “leases or tenancy agreements” running for the same length of time as their service contracts.

The DH said the emphasis of the PropCo’s role would be management of the estate, rather than disposal of surplus property. However on 12 January a letter from NHS deputy chief executive David Flory urged all NHS chief executives to sell any surplus assets, saying this would be “a win-win result for all concerned”.

He wrote: “The NHS reduces its running costs and will receive income from the surplus land sales to re-invest in healthcare. Building new homes reduces unemployment and provides new homes for the public.”