The Department of Health will measure strategic health authorities on the percentage of primary care trusts in their region that use the private sector to help them commission, HSJ has learned.

In a March draft of the DoH's NHS performance metrics for 2007-08, the DoH detailed plans to measure SHAs on the percentage of PCTs that are working with the private sector under the government's national Framework for Procuring External Support for Commissioners (FESC).

Under the heading 'Health Reform Deployment Report Indicators', the document states that the DoH will require SHAs to assess the 'percentage of PCTs using the option of FESC for specific commissioning functions'.

However, the early draft does not indicate an acceptable percentage range of PCT take-up of FESC, or whether SHAs will be penalised if not enough PCTs use the private sector for commissioning services.

The document, which sets out a range of performance metrics on which the NHS will be measured this year, is currently being circulated at DoH and SHA level and is expected to be published next month.

Last week companies bidding to win a place on the FESC list lodged their final bids with the DoH and must now wait until 21 May to learn if they have been successful.

A DoH spokesman confirmed that the bidding process is expected to be completed by the end of May.

The DoH intends to publish a full list of FESC suppliers on 1 June after a 10-day period in which those companies that have lost out under the tendering exercise can lodge an appeal.

Last June, the DoH published its controversial contract notice in the Official Journal of the European Union, inviting companies to join a list of eligible providers to offer PCTs commissioning and managerial services from 2007.

Companies which hope to be added to the framework include Bupa, UnitedHealth, Tribal Group, Dr Foster, Health Dialog UK, management consultants McKinsey, US healthcare insurance company Humana, and South African healthcare insurer Discovery.

In all there are thought to be more than 100 companies bidding to be added to the framework.

The FESC will comprise three lists detailing companies that can provide support to PCTs under the headings 'micro', 'macro' and 'end-to-end', split into four areas. The DoH's proposed areas are assessment and planning; contracting and procurement; performance management, settlement and review; and patient and public engagement.

Companies that are on the 'end-to-end' list would be allowed to run the entire commissioning function on behalf of a PCT.

However, in February the DoH published a policy statement which introduced stringent conditions under which PCTs could fully outsource commissioning support. (news, page 8, 15 February).

The statement warned that PCTs will only be able to outsource all their commissioning expertise in 'exceptional circumstances'.