The commissioning support units that will come into being on 1 April will spend around £700m a year on IT and other support services, according to a new report from EHI Intelligence.

The report from eHealth Insider’s research arm indicates that the 22 CSUs, which will provide IT, data collection, warehousing and analysis services, HR and commissioning functions, suggests they will employ 8,700 staff and set a total budget of just under £670m in their first year.

As such, they will be an important new market for suppliers, who are already targeting CSUs in order to sell to the clinical commissioning groups that will come into being alongside the NHS Commissioning Board and the other organisations being set up by the ‘Liberating the NHS’ reforms this spring.

“The great majority of CCGs are set to buy IT and business services from CSUs,” said report author and EHI Intelligence senior analyst SA Mathieson. “Anyone wanting to sell IT to the health service in England will have to work out how to deal with them.”

Commissioning support units were not mentioned in the original ‘Liberating the NHS’ white paper, or in the contested Health and Social Care Bill that enacted the reforms.

However, they have emerged as potentially important players in the reformed NHS, because of their role in providing key support to CCGs; some of which have indicated that they would rather provide services in-house or break with NHS tradition completely and work with the private sector.

The NHS CB, which will host the CSUs, expects them to become free-standing organisations through a process of “externalisation” by April 2016.

At that point, they will be expected to compete in a wider market of commissioning support services the NHS CB wants to create, or to be taken over by other organisations.

For the moment, however, EHI Intelligence’s research suggests that there is considerable continuity between CSUs and the primary care trusts that are making way for the new structures.

Of the 18 managing directors of CSUs announced so far (three of whom run two units each), 14 were previously senior officers for PCTs.

The EHI Intelligence report – ‘CCGs, CSUs and LATs: the new local organisations of the English NHS and their role in IT and Information’ – includes a directory of CSUs, CCGs and the NHS CB’s local area teams, which will have a role in maintaining national IT systems. The directory information is also available as maps.

The report is free to some EHI Intelligence subscribers, and otherwise costs £995 plus VAT. For more information visit the report page on EHI Intelligence.