PCTs are not obliged to use this framework - it is simply there to help them if they need it

World Class Commissioning is intended to transform radically how services are commissioned within the NHS. The joint programme developed by the NHS and Department of Health aims to have a profound effect on population health, reducing inequalities and ensuring people live longer and healthier lives, ‘adding life to years and years to life’.

As commissioning is mainly the responsibility of primary care trusts, they will lead the drive to deliver improvements.

By becoming world class at what they do, PCTs - along with general practices - will take a longer-term and more strategic approach to the commissioning of services, with a focus on providing a proactive rather than reactive health service.

To do this, commissioners will require strong knowledge management and analytical skills to ensure they develop a long-term view of community needs.

They will also need to build on their position within the local community, developing closer relationships with key partners, including practice-based commissioners and local authorities, and playing a more integral role in shaping and defining local services.

Key to success will be a PCT’s ability to listen and communicate back to its community. To minimise risk, maximise value and drive continuous improvement, commissioners will have to develop stronger negotiating, contracting, financial and performance management skills.

We know that at present there are skills gaps within some PCTs that will need addressing as we make the move towards world-class status. As part of the World Class Commissioning programme, a support and development framework is being developed to give commissioners the tools they need to drive improvements, by either sharing services and good practice, developing internal resources or buying in external expertise.

The full support and development framework is still being jointly developed by PCTs, the Department of Health and the wider health and social care community, and will be available early next year.

It will be up to commissioners to identify areas for their own development and to select the most appropriate tools for their local circumstances.

The Framework for procuring External Support for Commissioners (FESC), which is part of the ‘buy’ option, provides PCTs with easy access to a bank of specialist expertise in areas such as data analysis, contract management and public engagement. It is just one of the tools available to help commissioners fill any gaps in expertise and support them on their journey to becoming world class. We have always made it clear that PCTs are not obliged to use this framework - it is simply there to help them if they need it.

A key benefit of FESC is that it allows PCTs to buy in services in a way that is cost- and time-effective from experienced organisations that are already known and trusted. All FESC suppliers have been appointed on the basis of their technical and commercial ability and have gone through a rigorous pre-qualification process, in line with European Union procurement law.

FESC is more than simply a procurement tool, in that it involves a structured and analytical solution to commissioning needs, with template documentation and the services of a support team.

It is a great tool for driving world-class commissioning because the commissioning skills offered by the high-quality suppliers selected for the framework will lead to more innovative and efficient approaches to commissioning and will help achieve optimum value for money solutions.

Through working with external suppliers, PCTs can then harness any expertise brought into the organisation with the ultimate view of improving the skills of their own staff beyond the term of any FESC contract.

To maximise the potential of the framework, we have agreed to pilot a number of FESC schemes across the country over the coming months. Lessons learnt in these areas will be shared with the wider NHS and will influence the direction and use of the framework to ensure it supports our drive towards becoming world class in the best way possible.

There has already been considerable enthusiasm in FESC, with over 80 PCTs showing an interest in using the services available under the framework. Some PCTs will be looking to buy in expertise in small discrete areas, such as data analysis, while others will look to use the framework for a broader range of services to meet their needs.

Initial pilots are planned for: Ashton, Leigh and Wigan PCT; Cambridgeshire PCT; Hampshire PCT; Hillingdon PCT; North East Lincolnshire PCT; East of England strategic health authority and West Midlands commissioning business support agency.

In the meantime, any PCTs interested in using FESC are encouraged to begin their preparation so that, once the pilots have run, they will be ready to put their own requirements out to tender.

The development of World Class Commissioning is critical to the future health of the NHS. FESC has been designed as a tool to assist the NHS in achieving that goal. In many cases, NHS organisations have already worked with private sector organisations on these issues for years. FESC simply makes it easier and cheaper.

Whichever route a PCT chooses to become world class, they continue to be accountable and responsible for the commissioning function. Ultimately, it will be down to the PCTs themselves to drive World Class Commissioning and, in so doing, ensuring that the NHS remains one of the most progressive and high-performing health systems in the world.