The government has hailed moves to include the private sector to help the NHS commission services.
Fourteen firms, including UK specialists like Bupa and the consulting firm McKinsey, have been approved to help trusts improve services for patients.
The Department of Health has said it will make it easier for PCTs to find specialist expertise.
The Framework for procuring External Support for Commissioners (FESC) – will see firms offering support in fields such as data analysis.
But they will not be involved in delivering primary care.
Health minister Ivan Lewis said: “This new guidance will allow PCTs to benefit from a bank of knowledge already built up through the Department of Health procurement process.
“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.
“Of course, it will be up to PCTs to decide if they want to use suppliers within the framework and if they choose to do so, PCTs will remain fully responsible and accountable for managing the services provided.”
But some campaign groups claim the move is evidence of an increasing privatisation of the NHS.
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