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CCG mergers should be reconsidered amid coronavirus outbreak, says campaign group


By Awil Mohamoud
Reporter
26 March 2020

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CCG mergers set for next week should be reversed or delayed, as they have become a ‘distraction’ and a barrier to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, a campaign group has urged.

On Wednesday 1 April, 74 CCGs are due to merge to form 18 new CCGs covering wider geographical areas, taking the overall number of groups in England from 191 to 135.

Keep Our NHS Public co-chair Dr John Puntis said that while he believes mergers should be ‘put on hold’ for the moment, he would ideally like to see the plans reversed.

‘To get rid of CCGs is a reduction in local accountability and democracy. It is disenfranchising patients and GPs — who were the people who were supposed to be at the centre of this reorganisation [under the Health and Social Care Act 2012]. It’s going very much against the ethos of the legislation.’

The 2019 Long Term Plan recommended mergers as a way for NHS organisations to align strategy and manage resources and assets better. CCGs will become leaner, more strategic organisations as a result, it said.

Delays

It is unclear how much of an effect or delay coronavirus will have on merging CCGs in getting set up and organised from next week.

In a statement, accountable officer of the new NHS Kent and Medway CCG, Wilf Williams, said: ‘We are obviously all intensely focused on supporting the response to coronavirus and that will continue to be our priority for the foreseeable future, which means some of this work needs to be deferred until after the immediate pressure of Covid-19 passes.

‘But, looking ahead, the merger will offer a significant opportunity to drive forward improvements to how health and care services support the people of Kent and Medway.’

There is much to be done to shape the new organisation and to develop the Kent and Medway integrated care system, he added.

Lessons being learned

The UK Government, this week, decided to follow other European countries in ordering a nationwide lockdown on non-essential businesses and restrictions on travel.

Dr Puntis said: ‘What the pandemic highlights is that you need a joined-up public NHS that is well coordinated.

‘Italy has a good health service, generally speaking, but it is quite devolved and regionally based. It’s more clunky in its response to a national challenge like the pandemic, and that has been one of the suggestions as to why things accelerated so quickly there.’

Earlier this week, NHS England said it will be taking over CCG powers to purchase services from the private sector in a bid to supplement its coronavirus efforts.

This move ‘shows it’s time for them [NHS England] to acknowledge the whole direction of travel has been wrong. A fragmented system weakens our NHS and its ability to rise to the huge challenge that has presented itself,’ Mr Puntis suggested.

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