The eight clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Kent and Medway, which are responsible for local care services, have been given conditional approval to merge and form a single CCG from April 1, 2020.
The CCGs say the decision by NHS England and NHS Improvement puts them in a good position to support the development of local integrated care partnership and primary care networks, which are a vital part of improving care for local people.
Health chiefs say the move will save time, money and effort, freeing up GP time to see patients, and staff and GP time to develop new ways of working. The aim is also to make best use of staff and funds to meet rising demand.
The approval to create the single CCG has some conditions attached to it including the delivery of a financial recovery plan this year, and clear plans for how the financial position of Kent and Medway will continue to improve ad a review in December to determine whether legal financial directions can be lifted from the four east Kent CCGs, including Thanet.
GPs in each of the existing eight CCGs across Kent and Medway voted for the merger which they say will have benefits including improved staff recruitment and retention.
The Governing Body will be led by a GP majority, with one GP from each of the existing CCG areas for at least the first two years. After 2022, the Governing Body will review how GPs are elected to it, linked to geographic communities of GPs, to ensure fair representation.
Councillor Karen Constantne said she has concerns over the merger. She said: “I am very concerned about this merger into a super CCG. I think it will put real distance between the Commissioner’s and patients and will erode accountability. I want to be fully reassured that there will be no attempt to hold these meetings behind ‘closed doors’.
“The further away from Thanet these meetings are, the less residents and NHS activists will be able to observe and scrutinise the CCG meetings. Currently each CCG must meet in public, publish board papers, and consult on changes. This must continue and there should be even more robust efforts made to maintain engagement with patients.
A spokesman for the NHS in Kent and Medway said: “The single CCG will meet in public, publish board papers and consult on changes. As the new system develops from April 2020 much of the work previously done by NHS Thanet CCG will be led by an East Kent Integrated Care Partnership, which will include district councils. A key step in developing the partnership will be establishing strong patient and public engagement in the work it does to deliver local services tailored to local needs.
“The NHS Long Term Plan is very clear that collaboration, rather than competition, is the future, and proposes to remove regulations requiring the NHS to procure services. Integrated care is about existing NHS services working more closely together and with other local partners, in particular councils.”