COUNCILLORS have raised concerns over plans to merge NHS commissioning groups in Cheshire and Merseyside.

The qualms from Cheshire West’s health scrutiny committee have arisen following NHS England’s launch of a consultation into the planned introduction of integrated care systems (ICS) across the country from April 2022, which would replace clinical commissioning groups in some cases.

In Cheshire, it would mean the county’s NHS Cheshire CCG could be scrapped — despite only being created in April 2020 — to make way for a Cheshire-Merseyside ICS.

CWAC officer, Phil Purvis, summarised: “It is quite clear that the committee recognises that the plans do show advantages in how NHS resources can be delivered in a more stable and efficient manner. 

“This needs to be meaningful to local people and local communities. There are several areas of clarification members have raised.

“The theme seems to be a recognition of ‘yes, this has possibilities’ but ‘it needs to be balanced against robust local systems for that accountability and influence’ on commissioning at a local level.”

Councillors felt that the borough could lose its ‘loud voice’ in the governance of the NHS locally if it were to be paired with councils in the Liverpool City Region.

In January 2020, NHS England published ‘operational guidance’ which stated its intention “for all developing integrated care systems to be actively ‘streamlining commissioning arrangements, including typically one CCG per system’”, according to an NHS Cheshire CCG spokesperson last month, who confirmed the plans had been discussed at a national level.

The spokesperson added: “Prior to this publication, work had started across the nine CCGs in Cheshire and Merseyside looking at what would need to be done to progress any possible future merger of the CCGs.

NHS chiefs’ preferred option would see the creation of separate ICS bodies to manage commissioning, with the alternative to keep the existing structures in place and bolt-on an ICS board ‘with an accountable officer, working to a joint committee mechanism’.