The train ride towards a new commissioning landscape will reach its final destination next April, but is already encountering leaves on the track along the way.
It’s been another eventful few weeks as the commissioning structure continues to take shape. On Monday 1 October, the NHS Commissioning Board (NHS CB) was finally formally established as an independent body with executive powers and exceptional responsibilities. But it will have to wait until April 2013 to take on its full range of responsibilities.
Professor Malcolm Grant, NHS Commissioning Board Chair, said the formal establishment was a “new phase
in the history of the NHS”. Sir David Nicholson, Chief Executive of the Board, called the new responsibilities the Board now holds a “once in a lifetime opportunity to do things differently”.
The transition completes a hectic twelve months for the Board. Having only been established at the end of October last year, it has played a fundamental role in the Government’s vision to modernise the health service as outlined in the Health and Social Care Act. Arguably its main and most important task, before it takes on full statutory responsibilities next April, has been to assist in the development and authorisation of more than 200 evolving clinical commissioning groups.
As you would expect, this has not been an easy process. Alongside the introduction of clinical commissioning, it has also been given the responsibility for authorising Commissioning Support Units
(CSUs), who will assist clinicians in the procurement of certain services. While this may seem a routine task compared with the authorisation of a raft of CCGs, the Board has been criticised for the time it has taken them to appoint managing directors for the CSUs when clinicians are finally in a position to tender services.
The Board has also issued its response to the Government on the draft mandate for its NHS care objectives. Professor Malcolm Grant agrees the mandate is “fundamental” to the Government’s vision of a ‘liberated NHS’. However, he urged David Cameron and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to be “ambitious” in searching for new opportunities to focus on the “outcomes that matter to patients and the public.”
Professor Grant said that the “critical tests” of the mandate will be whether newly empowered CCG leaders can address and analyse the mandate and then say ‘‘Yes, this gives me the necessary freedom to address the needs of my local population.” Grant added that the mandate “provides a unique opportunity to make this happen.”
The Commissioning Board has also been informed by the Department of Health of an initial set of specialist
services it will be expected to commission nationally. Although the central powers for commissioning have now been transferred locally, the NHS CB will still retain responsibility for certain services which are defined as treating rare and uncommon conditions and illnesses. The 38 specialist services, which were selected by the Clinical Advisory Group for Prescribed Services, include:
- Specialised Cancer Services (adults)
- Haemophilia and related bleeding disorders (all ages)
- Cystic Fibrosis services (all ages)
- HIV/AIDS treatment and care services (adults)
- Specialised Mental Health Services (all ages)
- Morbid Obesity Services (all ages).
A final set of regulations will be established later in the year on which services will be commissioned nationally – following a consultation between the DH and the NHS CB on the initial recommendations.
Board under fire
But it hasn’t all been clear sailing for the NHS CB. Alongside being accused of delaying the authorisation of certain CCGs because of its stuttering CSU MD recruitment drive, the Board has admitted that it has failed to recruit a significant number of individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds. Jo-Anne Wass, HR Director, admitted the Board’s recruitment data did “not make easy reading”.
Questions have also been raised about the huge variation between clinical commissioning groups’ internal staff levels when compared to support service organisations. Critics have argued that CCGs will be forced to rely heavily on support units after analysis showed huge variations in staffing levels. Recent estimates from the DH show there are 4,200–6,300 staff employed by CCGs. Commissioning support units are expected to employ around 8,000 people.
Dame Barbara Hakin, National Director for Commissioning Development, has also been put under the spotlight by the General Medical Council. The GMC has commenced an investigation after a complaint against the commissioning director, who allegedly placed United Lincolnshire Hospital Trust under unnecessary pressure in 2009 when she was Chief Executive of the now disbanded East Midlands Strategic Health Authority. It’s claimed that waiting times and A&E targets were prioritised ahead of patient safety, despite warnings the trust was over capacity. Depending on the outcome of the investigation, the GMC may decide to take no action, issue a warning, refer Dame Barbara to a fitness to practise panel where she may be ‘struck off’, or decide on undertakings to allow her to keep her registration.
Yet despite the disparity in numbers, evolving CCGs appear to be in good shape. Following the successful scheduling of all of the wave one applications, the NHS CB confirmed that all 67 CCGs in the second authorisation wave had submitted their applications on time. In fact, every proposed CCG is now involved in an aspect of authorisation with the Board – be it a 360° stakeholder survey, a desk-top review, a case study or a site visit.
However, the authorisation process has been delayed. Initially the Board moved the ‘waves’ back by a month each. It subsequently moved the waves back by an additional month, meaning all CCGs will now be authorised by March 2013.
CCGs have also learnt when their final commissioning budgets will be confirmed. Commissioning Groups will have to wait until December to find out how much money they have been allocated to organise local services to meet the needs of their residents. The budgets will be decided using a system called the Fair Shares formula, which analyses the unique circumstances practices face and the health and wellbeing
of local populations.
Commissioners have aired frustration about the amount of ‘red tape’ they face when trying to organise new local health services. NHS Clinical Commissioners, who represent CCGs across the country, say bureaucracy is hindering doctors in their attempts to redesign new services. Dr Charles Alessi, Chair of the National Association of Primary Care, said there was an “overwhelming number of rules and regulations” which were having a significant impact on commissioners.
But it seems the frustration many commissioners have aired at the slow rate at which CSUs are being established may soon be coming to an end. David Stout has left the NHS Confederation to lead CSUs in Essex and Hertfordshire; Tim Andrews has also been given joint responsibilities at Cheshire, Warrington and Wirral CSU and at Merseyside CSU; Derek Kitchen will lead Staffordshire CSU and Lancashire CSU. Dr Leigh Griffin has also been appointed as the MD of Greater Manchester CSU – meaning only two of the 23 CSUs are still awaiting a permanent managing director.
While the NHS Commissioning Board is readily completing the authorisation process for CSUs it has recently been distanced from employing their support staff. The NHS Business Services Authority has agreed to employ some 8,000 staff during the hosting period up to 2016. The move means that although the NHS
CB will provide oversight and direction to CSUs it will not be the legal employer of CSU employees to avoid conflicts of interest. The new distancing arrangements were welcomed by the Board, who said it would help CSUs “develop appropriately as organisations in their own right.”
After confirming four lead CSUs to provide communications and engagement services around the country last month, the Commissioning Board will now focus on assisting support units to provide services and help to CCGs through the authorisation process, to ensure they are as individually autonomous as possible, to
help CSUs develop to become specialist suppliers and to ensure units seize opportunities open to them.
As the NHS reforms continue to evolve it would seem the commissioning landscape is far from being complete. It’s going to be a busy few months.