AXA PPP healthcare is one of only 14 private firms approved to help primary care trusts (PCTs) in England commission services for patients. The firms could offer help in areas such as data analysis, but not get involved in the delivery of direct patient care.
The new agreement - the Framework for procuring External Support for Commissioners (FESC) - is designed to help PCTs keep the costs of obtaining expert advice on commissioning as low as possible.
PCTs will be able to work with organisations that are already known and trusted, which will enable them to concentrate their efforts and expertise on providing patient care. It will be up to PCTs to decide if they want to use suppliers.
The 14 private companies will be available to help primary care trusts in England evaluate the health needs of local people and buy appropriate services. If the trials succeed, the companies may influence the commissioning of services ranging from family planning to chiropody. Companies will have no role in running the services they help to commission.