The Department of Health (DoH) has launched the formal procurement process for its £5bn restructuring of NHS IT.
The world's leading IT companies are being urged to form consortia with traditional niche health software suppliers to bid for work in what promises to be the UK's largest technology project.
The DoH will offer national contracts for key applications, such as electronic appointments and electronic prescribing and infrastructure projects such as broadband connectivity.
It will also invite suppliers to provide end-to-end systems for strategic health authorities.
Richard Granger, the new NHS IT Tsar, hinted at the strategy last year when he warned suppliers that they must prove their ability to deliver before they would be given contracts for the NHS IT upgrade.
The DoH said it was determined to create genuine competition among suppliers, "to contract award and beyond".
It also insisted that it wanted "appropriate risk transfer to the private sector", and said it would structure contracts to ensure that "completion risk will remain with the contractor".
Suppliers will be required to implement and manage services, rather than just sell systems to the NHS.
Suppliers have been given little over a month to form consortia and register expressions of interest.
A document recently published by the department described how suppliers would be divided into three categories - local service providers, national infrastructure service providers and national application service providers.