Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are NHS organisations set up by the Health and Social Care Act 2012 to organise the delivery of NHS services in England. The announcement that GPs would take over this commissioning role was made in the 2010 white paper "Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS". This was part of the government's advertised desire to create a clinically-driven commissioning system that was more sensitive to the needs of patients. The 2010 white paper became law under the Health and Social Care Act 2012 in March 2012. At the end of March 2013 there were 211 CCGs.
To a certain extent they replaced primary care trusts (PCTs), though some of the staff and responsibilities moved to local authority public health teams when PCTs ceased to exist in April 2013. Services directly provided by PCTs were reorganised through the Transforming Community Services programme.
Structure and membership
Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are clinically-led groups which include all of the GP groups in their geographical area. They are supposed to work with patients and healthcare professionals and in partnership with local communities and local authorities. On their governing body, each group has, in addition to GPs, at least one registered nurse and a doctor who is a secondary care specialist. The aim of this is to give GPs and other clinicians the power to influence commissioning decisions for their patients. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 provides that the areas specified in the constitutions of clinical commissioning groups together cover the whole of England, and do not coincide or overlap. CCGs are overseen by NHS England including its Regional Offices and Area Teams. These structures manage primary care commissioning, including holding the NHS Contracts for GP practices NHS.
Each CCG has a constitution and is run by its governing body. Each has to have an accountable officer responsible for the CCG's duties, functions, finance and governance. Most CCGs initially appointed former primary care trust managers to these posts. However, by October 2014, only a quarter of accountable officers were GPs, whereas 80% of CCG Chairs were GPs. By November 2014 only half of GP practices said they felt involved in CCG decision making processes.
In 2015, E-reward, an online pay research service, analysed the pay of more than 2,500 CCG managers at the 211 CCGs in England. They reported that 56% of 225 top executives – chief officers and chief finance officers – were paying themselves more than the salary range recommended by NHS England of £95,000 to £125,000 a year.
Unite the Union surveyed the 3,392 CCG board members in 2015 and reported that 513 were directors of private healthcare companies: 140 owned such businesses and 105 carried out external work for them. More than 400 CCG board members were shareholders in such companies. The King's Fund and the Nuffield Trust ran a survey of GPs in six areas of England in 2016 and found that more than 70% were at least "somewhat" engaged with the work of their CCG, though only 20% of those without a formal role in their CCG said they could influence the work of their CCG if they chose to.
In 2013, 211 groups were established and there was resistance to any proposals for mergers between groups. On 1 April 2015 Gateshead CCG, Newcastle North & East CCG and Newcastle West CCG merged, yet in the same year, Lakeside Healthcare applied to move from Corby CCG where it had two-thirds of the registered population to Nene CCG, but Nene refused to accept it. During 2016 it appeared that further mergers would be permitted, and in November 2016 NHS England published an official procedure. In March 2017, 83 CCGs were sharing chief officers as a precursor to merger. During 2017 mergers between CCGs began, having previously been forbidden. As of August 2017 GPs in Staffordshire submitted a vote of no confidence in their local CCGs in protest against a proposed merger. The merger between Liverpool, South Sefton and Southport and Formby CCGs was stopped while an investigation into Liverpool CCG's governance and management of conflicts of interest was carried out, leading to the resignation of several of its leaders. There were similar investigations in Hackney, London and Crawley.
As of April 2018, the largest CCG in England was created following the merger of NHS Birmingham Cross-City, Birmingham South Central and Solihull CCGs. The newly formed NHS Birmingham and Solihull CCG became responsible for commissioning services for over 1.3 million patients.
In November 2018 NHS England announced that the administration budgets of CCGs were to be cut by 20% and that mergers, which would be approved, were a good way of saving money. For 2020, 86 mergers are planned, thus 45% of the current 191 groups. As of February 2020, there were to be 135 groups from April 2020 onward.
Relationship with local councils
In October 2017, it was announced that Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group were to merge some services with those provided by Brighton and Hove City Council, via a Health and Social Care Integration Board. The board was to commence work in April 2018 and provide full service a year later, preventing duplication of health and social care within the city. As of December 2017 the ten CCGs in Greater Manchester were in various stages of establishing a "single commissioning function" with their council.
Each CCG is responsible for persons who are provided with primary medical services by a member of the group, and persons who usually reside in the group's area and are not provided with primary medical services by a member of any clinical commissioning group. CCGs operate by commissioning (or buying) healthcare services including:
- Most community health services
- Elective hospital care
- Rehabilitation care
- Urgent and emergency care
- Mental health and learning disability services
- Individual funding requests in their area.
Clinical commissioning groups are responsible for arranging emergency and urgent care services within their boundaries, and for commissioning services for any unregistered patients who live in their area. All GP practices must belong to a clinical commissioning group. The area of the CCG must all be within one top-tier local authority.
As originally established, CCGs did not have any responsibility for Primary Care which was commissioned and managed by NHS England, but in November 2014 CCGs were invited to become co-commissioners of primary care in their area, responsible for the performance management and budgets of their member GP practices, including managing complaints about practices and GPs. A delegated commissioning model was tried from 2015: As of April 2015, 63 were to take on fully delegated responsibility and 87 were to begin "joint commissioning", which involves less responsibility.The initial commissioning of primary care was done by NHS England. In 2017 it was proposed that most CCGs should take responsibility for GP contracts, as the early adopters had done well and it was "critical to local sustainability and transformation planning". As of October they were also to be able to establish new practices, approve mergers and manage 'discretionary' payments.
In November 2014, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group, chaired by Sam Everington, was awarded Clinical Commissioning Group of the year by the Health Service Journal for "strong leadership, especially around clinical leadership, while retaining patient focus."
In May 2015, a study conducted by the Open University and University College London found that clinical leaders "seemed to be more willing to challenge or ignore diktats and messages from above, and to encourage their managerial colleagues to do the same". Clinical leaders were more "focused on outcomes and less interested in processes. They don't really mind how they do things as long as they feel they're having an impact". Having the option of returning to full-time clinical practice meant that clinicians felt a "degree of freedom in what they say and do".
In April 2018, in a dispute brought by City of Wolverhampton Council against Shropshire and South Worcestershire CCGs over their failure to meet the continuing healthcare costs for a patient with learning disabilities, Mr Justice Garnham ruled that a CCG cannot pay for treatment of a patient registered with a general practitioner outside their area.
In 2018/19, £74.2 billion was distributed among the 195 CCGs in England, equivalent to £1,254 per registered patient. The funding formula allocates more money to CCGs with elderly populations, in urban areas, or in more deprived areas. The highest allocation per patient was £1,645 for Knowsley and the lowest £1,040 for Oxfordshire. Funding per head increased in real terms by 2% a year between 2013/14 and 2018/19.
In 2015, the Centre for Health and the Public Interest estimated that in 2013–14 there were about 53,000 contracts between the NHS in England and the private sector, including contracts for primary care services, of which the 211 CCGs currently hold 15,000 with an annual value of about £9.3bn. They sent Freedom of Information requests to all 211 CCGs, seeking information about how they monitor contracts with private providers and concluded that CCGs failed to manage contracts with private providers effectively.
According to Christian Mazzi, head of health at Bain & Company, in September 2015 70% of CCGs had failed to monitor their private sector contracts or enforce quality standards. 12% had not carried out any visits to private providers, and 60% could not say if they had done so.
In April 2013, NHS England established 25 commissioning support units to provide a variety of support functions, largely staffed by former employees of the primary care trusts. All CCGs were told that they must procure support services by a tender process by April 2015. The first tender, by South Lincolnshire and South West Lincolnshire CCGs was won by OptumHealth with a value of £3 million a year for three years. By 2017 only 8 were still in existence.
Incentives and referrals
In September 2015 at least 9 CCGs had set up "ethically questionable" incentive schemes to persuade GPs to reduce referrals for new outpatient attendances, follow-ups, A&E attendances and emergency admissions with payments per practice of up to £11,000. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, of the British Medical Association, condemned them as "a financial contaminant" to patient-doctor trust. The General Medical Council guidance, Financial and commercial arrangements and conflicts of interest provides that a doctor should "not allow any interests you have to affect the way you prescribe for, treat, refer or commission services for patients" but the council accepted that "Finance and other incentives can be an effective way of driving improvements in healthcare."
An April 2015 survey of CCGs by the Health Service Journal found that more than a third were planning to save money by restricting access to services, i.e. health care rationing, particularly on "procedures of limited effectiveness", podiatry, in vitro fertilisation, and limiting access to procedures based on aspects of a patient's health, for example whether they smoke or are obese, which can affect outcomes.
Another Health Service Journal survey in September 2015 showed that 34 of 188 CCGs who responded to the survey had restricted access to some services. Restrictions were usually introduced by a number of CCGs acting together across an area. Nottinghamshire CCGs had restricted access to surgery for sleep apnoea and hysterectomy for heavy menstrual bleeding, fat grafts, hair depilation, earlobe repair, and chin, cheek or collagen implants.
Response to 2020 pandemic
In view of the coronavirus pandemic, on 23 and 27 March 2020 the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care directed the NHS Commissioning Board to buy services from the private sector, thereby bypassing CCGs. The directive also allows NHS England to exercise functions normally carried out by CCGs, as the Board deems appropriate. The direction will be in place until the end of 2020.
Regulation and judicial review
All CCGs had to go through an authorisation process. Between July and December 2012, there were four waves of authorisation .
In 2014 NHS England investigated Wirral Clinical Commissioning Group after Birkenhead MP Frank Field raised concerns about it. They found that the chair and chief clinical officer "did not demonstrate the necessary close working agreement" about what needed to change within the CCG. There were also questions about the relationship senior leaders had with Arrowe Park Hospital. After the report was published Field repeated his calls for the senior officers to stand aside while a new constitution is made for the governance of the group.
In October 2014 it was reported that NHS England were considering a special measures regime for CCGs in difficulties, of which there were said to be about a dozen. Under the current assurance framework, CCGs are rated as "assured", "assured with support" or "not assured". Only Barnet CCG has been rated "not assured". Guidance issued in August 2015 provided that if CCGs which have been in special measures for more than a year NHS England can "trigger changes in the management, governance or structure of the CCG's responsibilities, with the potential for other CCGs or relevant bodies to take over aspects of the local commissioner's responsibilities". None had then been placed in special measures yet.
In November 2015, Shropshire Clinical Commissioning Group was put in special measures after its financial position deteriorated. It expected an in-year deficit of £10.6 million for 2015/6. In September 2017, 23 CCGs were rated inadequate by NHS England for 2016-17, five were given legal directions and two, Lewisham and Greenwich, were ordered to "cease to exercise its acute commissioning functions, including the contract with Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust" until April 2019.
Bristol CCG were subject to a legal challenge from a local pressure group, Protect Our NHS, who claimed that their processes for involving patients and the public in their decisions were inadequate. A judicial review was withdrawn in June 2014 after the CCG agreed to amend its patient and public involvement strategy and other documents.
- Category:Healthcare in England by county for local commissioning issues
- "Health and Social Care Act 2012 Schedule 2". UK Government. Retrieved 17 April 2013.
- King's Fund (2016). "Clinical commissioning, GPs in charge" (PDF). www.kingsfund.org.uk.
- "62 new clinical commissioning groups given green light to take control of NHS budgets". www.england.nhs.uk. NHS England. 20 February 2013. Retrieved 17 April 2013.
- "Bureaucrats return to lead doctors' groups". The Independent. 1 April 2012. Retrieved 14 September 2012.
- "About us". NHS England. Retrieved 17 April 2013.
- "Exclusive: over 60 per cent of CCGs choose PCT manager as their leader". Health Service Journal. 14 March 2012. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
- "GPs hold only a quarter of accountable CCG roles". Health Service Journal. 16 October 2014. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
- "Fall in GP engagement with CCGs, NHS England survey finds". Health Service Journal. 20 October 2014. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
- "NHS bureaucrats on more than £140,000: 20 bosses award themselves higher salary than PM". Daily Mail. 10 March 2015. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
- "Over a quarter of board members on new bodies commissioning NHS care have links to the private health sector". Independent. 15 March 2015. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
- "More GPs involved in their CCG but not enough, says King's Fund report". Commissioning Review. 14 July 2016. Retrieved 7 December 2016.
- "Procedures for clinical commissioning groups to apply for constitution change, merger or dissolution" (PDF). NHS England. 3 November 2016. Retrieved 20 December 2016.
- "Vanguard 'super practice' bid to switch CCG rejected". Health Service Journal. 3 November 2015. Retrieved 12 December 2015.
- "Mapped: The changing CCG landscape". Health Service Journal. 27 March 2017. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
- "Three CCGs to merge into largest commissioning region in England". Healthcare Leader. 13 March 2017. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
- "CCG governance creaking under pressure". Healthcare Leader. 17 August 2017. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
- "CCG admin budgets to be cut by a fifth". Health Service Journal. 26 November 2018. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
- "Revealed: Nearly half of CCGs planning mergers for 2020". Health Service Journal. 23 July 2019. Retrieved 26 August 2019.
- "The CCG map after new wave of mergers". Health Service Journal. 5 February 2020. Retrieved 23 March 2020.
- le Duc, Frank (12 October 2017). "Brighton and Hove council to merge with NHS commissioning body". Brighton and Hove News.
- "Council chiefs to take on leadership of several CCGs". Local Government Chronicle. 13 December 2017. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
- The NHS constitution (12 August 2013). "Who Pays? Guidance" (PDF). Who pays? Determining responsibility for payments to providers. NHS England. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
- "63 CCGs take control of primary care budgets despite serious misgivings". Health Service Journal. 10 April 2015. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
- "Will CCGs take full control of general practice?". Management in Practice. 25 October 2017. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
- "Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group". Health Service Journal. 22 November 2014. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
- "Clinical leaders 'more willing to challenge diktats', research finds". Health Service Journal. 27 April 2015. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
- "Judge criticises CCGs for spending public money on 'expensive lawyers'". Health Service Journal. 1 May 2018. Retrieved 26 June 2018.
- "NHS Funding: Clinical Commissioning Groups". House of Commons Library. 10 October 2018. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
- "The contracting NHS". Socialist Health Association. 20 April 2015. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
- "NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers". Independent. 19 April 2015. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
- "NHS brings to a halt two years of 'exuberant' outsourcing growth". Financial Times. 28 September 2015. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
- "Private firm wins first full commissioning support tender". Health Service Journal. 29 September 2015. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
- "'Questionable' incentives slammed by lead GPs". Onmedica. 2 October 2015. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
- "Survey: Third of CCGs consider limiting access amid cash squeeze". Health Service Journal. 21 April 2015. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
- "NHS treatments such as vasectomies and hip operations to be rationed because of cost-cutting". Independent. 30 July 2015. Retrieved 22 August 2015.
- "Nearly a third of CCGs consider rationing services". Health Service Journal. 3 September 2015. Retrieved 18 October 2015.
- "The Exercise of Commissioning Functions by the NHS Commissioning Board (Coronavirus) Directions 2020". GOV.UK. 20 April 2020. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
- Brennan, Sharon (23 March 2020). "NHS England takes over CCG powers". Health Service Journal. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
- "Clinical commissioning group authorisation: Draft guide for applicants" (PDF). NHS Commissioning Board. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
- "Critical report says relationship between senior leaders at Wirral health authority has held it back". Liverpool Echo. 10 September 2014. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
- "Troubled CCGs could face 'special measures' regime". Health Service Journal. 16 October 2014. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
- "'Other bodies' could take powers from failing CCGs". Health Service Journal. 14 August 2015. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
- "Shropshire Clinical Commissioning Group in special measures". BBC News. 4 November 2015. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
- "CCGs in legal directions lose commissioning responsibilities". Health Service Journal. 22 September 2017. Retrieved 13 October 2017.
- "CCG amends involvement strategy as procurement judicial review withdrawn". Local Government Lawyer. 13 June 2014. Retrieved 9 July 2014.