Primary care trusts will not be forced to use the Department of Health's framework for procuring external support commissioning to strengthen their commissioning function, according to the commercial directorate's FESC lead.

Speaking to delegates at the NHS Confederation's annual conference, Simon Morgan said that it would be up to PCTs whether they decided to use external companies to help them commission.

'We see the FESC as a tool in the tool box which PCTs can choose to use. This is about doing something constructive rather than forcing something on them,' he said.

However, he failed to rule out the possibility that strategic health authorities would be measured on the number of PCTs in their area that had taken up FESC.

PCTs will be able to commission services from a range of private companies to help them develop their role as commissioners.

Mr Morgan explained that they would be able to tender to a list of DoH-approved companies and invite them to provide micro or macro services..

He added that at the macro end, PCTs could ask the private sector to manage a 'function macro', for example the PCT's entire assessment and planning role, or a 'service macro' such as looking after all the mental health commissioning for an organisation.

The commercial directorate will also provide a 'central support team' to PCTs to support them on FESC procurement.

'We will help support you through the procurement and help you find the right contract for you to provide the right commissioning support for your PCT and PCT board,' he said.

Mr Morgan said that it would be some months before FESC was up and running in PCTs while they 'begin to decide what they need'.