STRUCTURE: Talks are already under way to further expand the NHS commissioning support service already stretching from Berkshire to Gloucestershire.

Bath and North East Somerset and Wiltshire primary care trusts are hoping to join the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Swindon and Gloucestershire CSS this spring, assuming it passes checkpoint two of the assurance process.

HSJ has also learned that the three clinical commissioning groups in Wiltshire agreed this week to merge into a single CCG.

The CCGs had planned to share commissioning support services between themselves, but local leaders agreed this was not viable.

At the moment the cluster is one of four in England which not working on a CSS plan. HSJ understands that delays to the clustering process caused a lack of clarity over the transition to the new NHS structure.

In the others – Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole – CCGs are planning to provide support services in-house, share them between themselves and buy in some services from outside.

NHS CSSs are today submitting their outline business plans as part of the “checkpoint two” stage of the assurance process.

CSSs will be evaluated through a panel interview process, while the NHS Commissioning Board’s business development unit will talk to local CCGs to assess how well each CSS is responding to local needs.

The Wiltshire and Bath and North East Somerset area is not understood to be part of the bid from the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Swindon CSS. However, HSJ understands that the South of England strategic health authority cluster and the business development unit are aware of the possibility of them joining later.

Interim cluster chief executive Ed Macalister-Smith confirmed that the cluster was in active discussion with the CSS, “with a view to joining them as soon as possible”.

He added that it was vital that PCT staff had certainty over their futures. “I take my hat off to staff who have remained focused on the day job in recent months”, he said.