The Department of Health has written to local authority leaders inviting them to become pilots for health and wellbeing boards.

DH director general for social care, local government and care partnerships David Behan has invited councils to join “a network of early implementers” for the boards, which are intended to drive integrated working at local level, especially commissioning.

Health and wellbeing boards are set to be established in 2013, and Mr Behan said it was a “legitimate ambition” to work towards every local authority having a shadow board in place by April 2012. The network is seen as a key step in achieving this target.

In the letter Mr Behan says: “The network will be a way for you [local authorities] to develop your approach with other local areas, to share your experiences and learn from each other.

“We have worked with an initial group of 25 councils to design the focus and approach of the network, which we expect to develop further over the coming months as more areas join the network.”

Mr Behan said the DH would be working with strategic health authorities to link the network into GP pathfinders, for example by “ensuring learning is available for GPs and councils in the same place”.

The letter says there will “not be a formal selection process” to become a pilot. However it calls on council leaders and chief executives interested in the initiative to write to the DH by 1 March, demonstrating that they are “genuinely committed” to developing the board in partnership with commissioning consortia and district councils.

The Health and Social Care Bill, published earlier this month, states the main duty of the boards is to “encourage integrated working” in NHS and social care commissioning and provision.

Working with commissioning consortia they will publish joint strategic needs assessments and joint health and wellbeing strategies for their area.

Commissioning consortia, when they compile their annual commissioning plans, will have to consult local health and wellbeing boards, and ask them for a statement on whether they have taken “proper account of the most recent [health and wellbeing] strategy”. The consortia will have to include the statement in their annual plan.

Each board must include at least one local authority councillor; the local authority’s directors of adult social services, children’s services and public health; a representative of the local HealthWatch and a representative of each relevant commissioning consortium.