Nine commissioning support unit alliances have been created, based on a mix of partnerships and merging CSUs, NHS England has announced.

The nine alliances have all put in bids to become part of NHS England’s lead provider framework, which will allow clinical commissioning groups to purchase services on a ‘call-off’ basis, and will include CSUs, charities and private companies.

Speaking at the Health + Care conference in London today, Andrew Kenworthy, NHS England’s director of CSU transition, said that moving forward CSUs will effectively be nine organisations, either formed by partnerships or mergers.

He said that there has been a cultural challenge to move from, what used to be, a large number of primary care trusts to the creation of CSUs.

“There were effectively 95 CSUs less than four years ago, and we are now moving to a place where we have nine groups of CSUs working together,” he said.

“The nine CSU groups have submitted bids in response to the lead provider framework. That is a process that will assess every service that CSU offers against the best in that area.”

Originally, the Department of Health estimated that between 25 and 35 CSUs could be set up to provide services to clinical commissioning groups from 1 April 2013. That number has steadily declined since.

Speaking to EHI, Stephen Johnson, NHS England’s relationship manager, said the alliances mean CSUs will be in a stronger position to compete against external companies. “Some of them are simply working together, while others have decided to merge,” he said.

For instance, NHS Greater Manchester CSU and NHS Cheshire and Merseyside CSU are currently in partnership, but looking to merge, said Johnson.

South CSU and South West CSU will remain as two separate organisations working together, whereas Central Midlands CSU and Staffordshire and Lancashire CSU have now merged.

“North Yorkshire and Humber CSU is working with Yorkshire and Bassetlaw CSU. Their intention is to merge together,” said Johnson.

EHI reported in November last year that NHS Kent and Medway CSU, South London CSU and parts of North West London CSU were exploring a three-way partnership to secure a place on the framework.

Johnson said the three CSUs were now working towards a merger, which is likely to be in place by the end of the year.

Greater East Midlands CSU and Arden CSU are working in partnership with no plans to merge.

Some CSUs will still be independent. One of these is North and East London CSU.  EHI reported in February this year that the CSU had taken over commissioning support from NHS Anglia CSU, which no longer exists.

Both Central Southern CSU and North of England CSU will remain independent.