Requirements will be made public before end of year, with final appointments made in June 2013.
The NHS Commissioning Board is expected to announce the requirements new suppliers must meet to provide its NHSmail 2 email service by the end of the year.
Bids will be entered through the government’s G-Cloud procurement service and the resulting contracts are expected to be worth several million pounds.
The NHS is reported to be looking to contract a number of secure email providers to increase competition and drive down costs, a spokesperson told the Government Computing website.
Email services for the NHS are provided by Cable & Wireless, which was signed up to a 10-year provisioning contract in 2004. When it expires in 2014, the winners of the upcoming tendering process, who will be appointed in June 2013, will take over providing the service.
The NHS has said one of the reasons it will be acquiring new suppliers via the G-Cloud framework is to avoid being locked into long-term contracts.
The service is undertaking a consultation via its forums, asking users to submit their opinions on how the replacement service should work.
Dr Simon Eccles, senior responsible owner for NHSmail, said: "Preparation for the future of NHSmail is in full swing and we are looking for user views to help us shape a future service. Therefore we have set up ways people can get in touch and tell us what their requirements would be from a future service.”
The requirements potential contractors will have to meet will be published in December 2012. Supplier responses will need to be submitted in January 2013 and the selection process will take place in March, with the winners appointed three months later.