Providers will be contractually obliged to provide information to help commissioners decide whether they should continue to buy services from them.

Providers will be contractually obliged to provide information to help commissioners decide whether they should continue to buy services from them.

The announcement was due to form part of the government's new commissioning framework, scheduled to be unveiled today.

The framework, which focuses on acute care, sets out the approach to improving information. And it suggests PCTs may choose to take up a national contract, 'drawing on the skills of companies with particular expertise in risk profiling or social marketing'. Under the terms of a 'call off' contract, PCTs would pay only for the expertise they used.

Last week, ahead of the announcement, Department of Health head of access, policy development and capacity Bob Ricketts told an HSJ conference that Dr Foster Intelligence - the joint venture between the information company and the DoH - was not endorsed by the DoH, and that PCTs were under no obligation to use their services.

At Thursday's conference on using information for effective commissioning, Mr Ricketts was asked whether PCTs had to use Dr Foster because it was a joint venture with the DoH. He replied: 'There is no implied endorsement. There are a range of providers out there, both independent and NHS-provided.'

The King's Fund has also worked with Health Dialog and New York University on software to identify patients at highest risk of hospitalisation.

Mr Ricketts said this week's framework had been designed to overturn the 'real imbalance between providers and commissioners', which has grown up over the past decade.

'We're trying to deal with that in two ways,' he told the conference on information and commissioning: 'One is by providing effective contractual levers around market entry and so on. The other is by making sure commissioners have enough information to drive change.'

He said effective commissioners needed to have 'credible information on patients' feedback' to use as a lever.

To help commissioners decide where services are falling behind on quality, the DoH is to publish, over the next six to nine months, a series of benchmarking toolkits for areas like stroke, maternity and diabetes. A toolkit on demand management would also be released in the next few weeks, he said.

Mr Ricketts said better information meant 'you are more likely as a commissioner to get patients behind you in understanding some of the reasons for improvements you need to make, and challenging secondary care providers where services are unsatisfactory'.

Mr Ricketts said there would also be some 'very strong statements' in the framework about patient voice. 'The framework will be expecting PCTs to really make a step-change in terms of user engagement, particularly around service redesign and needs assessment.' Real-time information on patient views was 'patchy', and he said the framework would highlight best practice from local government.

He said too few PCTs had the necessary skills to commission services effectively and that they would be encouraged to 'pool skills and capacity via shared commissioning and business services'.

'We are going to make it easier to access skills in some of the more specialist areas like actuarial skills, social marketing, data collection and analysis - either through procurement or making some of the DoH's information and analysis more widely available.'