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NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSEI) has issued new guidance for NHS Trusts about reducing burden and releasing capacity to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, reinforcing that CCG mergers should still proceed for April 2021.

Published on the 26th of January, the letter was sent to all chief executives of NHS Trusts and Foundation Trusts and CCG accountable officers in England.

It updates and reconfirms NHSEI’s position on regulatory and reporting requirements for NHS Trusts and Foundation Trusts as the NHS faces “unprecedented” levels of pressure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“Whilst numbers of admissions are plateauing and beginning to decline in some parts of the country, they continue to grow in others and the number of patients in hospital and in critical care with COVID-19 will take some time to reduce,” the letter reads. “At the same time the NHS is delivering a national COVID vaccination programme of unparalleled scale and complexity, whist also continuing to provide non-COVID care.”

To help free up resources during this difficult time, the letter states that all NHS Trusts and Foundation Trusts should pause all non-essential oversight meetings, streamline assurance and reporting requirements, provide greater flexibility on various year-end submissions, focus improvement resources on COVID-19 and recovery priorities, and only maintain those existing development workstreams that support recovery.

Importantly, NHSEI says that Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) mergers should still go ahead as planned for April 2021, adding that work on CCG mergers has already restarted.

The NHS Long Term Plan recommended that integrated care systems (ICSs) will cover the whole country by April 2021 and that there would be ‘typically’ one CCG for each ICS. As a result, CCGs have been merging in England in preparation for this change.

ICSs are a closer form of collaboration between the NHS and local authorities, which aim to provide more integrated and person-centred care for patients, while pooling budgets and sharing resources across health and social care. The focus is on more preventative care and removing barriers that people might currently face in accessing health and social care separately.

Although NHSEI has reinforced that CCG mergers should still go ahead as planned, the letter says that it will keep its guidance under “close review” and will make changes if necessary.

Signed by Amanda Pritchard, Chief Operating Officer at NHS England at NHS Improvement, she finishes the letter by stating: “Once again, we appreciate the incredible level of commitment and hard work from you and your teams that has helped the NHS rise to meet the challenges of the last year, and in particular these past four weeks.”

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