How clinical commissioning groups are handling new responsibilities @Medici_Manager @muirgray

by Steve Kell

One hundred days have now passed since 1 April and the official birth of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs). As a GP and CCG chair it has been one of the most exciting, frustrating and meaningful periods of my career.

For most CCGs, delegated authority from primary care trust clusters, and therefore responsibility, had been in place for some time before April. However the process of authorisation and establishing organisations undoubtedly became a necessary distraction, with process and structure the focus.

Authorisation was essential to ensure we build robust, patient-focused organisations capable of fulfilling our statutory duties. CCGs were the only part of the new system to have been through this process, despite the number of new structures in the commissioning system. Since authorisation it has been good to get back to what we are here to do — commissioning health services and working with patients and practices to ensure we understand local services and their quality.

Bassetlaw CCG is a comparatively small CCG, with 12 practices and 112,000 patients in north Nottinghamshire. We have the same issues as many of our neighbours – high mortality and morbidity levels, areas of significant deprivation, obesity and substance misuse. We have a two-tier local authority system and we are members of Nottinghamshire health and wellbeing board. However, 90% of our patients use acute health services based in northern England – in South Yorkshire (including Bassetlaw hospital as part of Doncaster and Bassetlaw hospitals foundation trust).

Much of our time, therefore, is spent developing partnerships. Many of the commissioning organisations we work with are new, including NHS Englandpublic health teams and the health and wellbeing board. Practices and providers are important as pre-existing parts of the system, and have been essential in understanding our local health services and outcomes. We have built transparent relationships with our providers, openly discussing services, capacity and performance. We meet neighbouring CCGs regularly to discuss commissioning on a regional level such as cardiology services and networks.

Quality assurance forms a significant part of our role. Performance indicators and targets are a key part of this, but we have also reviewed issues raised by member practices and patients. Service development has been one of our most important work streams. It is essential that we seek continuous improvement in services for patients, and not simply monitor what we already have. GPs work closely with managers to improve pathways and we have successfully commissioned new musculoskeletal, dermatology, cardiac rehabilitation and community paediatric pathways for local patients.

As a CCG we have a strong sense of responsibility for our local population. Patient engagement is central to this. We have well established practice patient groups and groups within the CCG, and this role is led by our new lay member who has worked hard to ensure we have a new, meaningful approach. We have developed a series of summits with patients, carers and providers including extremely successful dementia and learning disability events.

We have a number of commissioning priorities as a CCG. Some, such as developing integration of services and pathways, have been enhanced by the development of an integrated care board chaired by the local authority. Some have arisen due to performance issues, such as A&E performance. We have worked closely with practices, visit A&E weekly and have commissioned increased capacity within the department and acute medical services with significant results. Targets are now being met and we have services with better access to senior staff over seven days and diagnostics.

There are significant challenges. Being allowed access to patient information is essential if we are to improve outcomes and commission effectively. Running cost, set at £25 per patient, is a blunt tool that does not take into account organisational size and fixed costs, or local health needs. CCGs, particularly those such as Bassetlaw, who have natural communities but are relatively small, are extremely lean organisations where clinical and managerial time is limited and we have learned to work as an efficient, effective team. It is essential that this is valued when we have assurance meetings and that reporting upwards does not distract us from our role.

We operate as just one part of a complex commissioning system. We need to ensure we are active partners alongside public health, regulators and NHS England, and that our clinical involvement and patient engagement lead to better outcomes.

After 100 days I’m optimistic. Clinical commissioning is delivering. The NHS needs it to succeed.

Dr Steve Kell is chair of Bassetlaw CCG and co-chair of NHS Clinical Commissioners Leadership Group

This article is published by Guardian Professional. Join the Healthcare Professionals Network to receive regular emails and exclusive offers.

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