The Department of Health is considering setting up a national social enterprise to handle communications for commissioning consortia, HSJ can reveal.

Presentation slides seen by HSJ propose a central “shared service” body, provisionally called the Commissioned Communications and Engagement Social Enterprise Agency, which would handle campaigns, “stakeholder management”, media queries and Freedom of Information Act requests for consortia

HSJ understands the DH is considering underwriting the cost of the new organisation for its first five years.

Under the proposals, services offered to consortia would include a “policy helpline” to the DH, “access to patient insight and research” and support around reconfiguration.

The plans could come into effect once consortia take over commissioning from primary care trusts.

Notes in the presentation say a free market in communications would see duplicated spending, a reduction in quality and “less support for NHS brand values”.

The DH’s proposals are aimed at “supporting the creation of a local market in communications and engagement products, but in a more managed and efficient way”.

The presentation sets out the advantages of a national body with “flexible sub-national teams in hotspots”. It notes that “staff numbers can be flexed according to need but drawn from current strategic health authority, primary care trust and NHS teams.”

While the presentation claims the new organisation would not be “another quango” it says the proposal “meets [the] initial need to ‘centralise before localising’”. It adds: “Proving [its] worth during [the 2011-13] transition period will mean fewer redundancies.”

They said four pathfinder consortia in one region had already “agreed to use such a service provided by the organisation.”

The preface also stated: “As GPs will be commissioning all health services, communications will not be confined to general practice, but will also include public accountability across the piece – in the hospital environment, in social services and mental health.”

A shared service arrangement for GP consortia and clusters is being looked at regionally for the transition period.

DH communications director Colin Douglas said options were still being worked through for the shape of future communications services.

He told HSJ: “A lot of work is being led in SHAs on business cases around this. I will be having further conversations with them on what the ideal model for these will be. What we are looking at is something that will work through transition. I won’t go into detail about its size or shape.”