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The North Hampshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is set to merge with five others in April to create one Hampshire-wide body that focuses on integrated and local care.

The single Hampshire, Southampton and Isle of Wight CCG will replace the current Hampshire and Isle of Wight Partnership of CCGs – which has seen the close joint working of Fareham and Gosport, Isle of Wight, North Hampshire, and South Eastern Hampshire CCGs over the last three years – as well as Southampton City CCG and West Hampshire CCG.

However, Hampshire councillors have raised concerns about whether this CCG merger will remove local-focused services.

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According to the Basingstoke Gazette, the clinical-led body has given assurances that local-focused services will be “very much retained”.

Created in 2012 following the establishment of the Health and Social Care Act, CCGs are clinically-led NHS bodies responsible for the planning and commissioning of healthcare services for their local area.

As it stands, CCGs have a statutory responsibility for commissioning most NHS services, including urgent and emergency care, acute care, mental health services and community services.

However, the NHS is pushing for more integrated and collaborative care, which sees local authorities and NHS organisations working more closely together to provide more seamless services for the local populations they serve.

As part of these plans, the NHS Long Term Plan outlined that integrated care systems (ICSs) would cover the whole country by 2021 and that commissioning arrangements would be streamlined to support this, with typically one CCG covering each ICS area. This announcement, along with pressures on CCGs to reduce their running costs, has accelerated the pace of proposed CCG mergers.

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.

Now, councillors have raised concerns about the North Hampshire CCG merger and whether this would remove a local feel towards health in the area.

Speaking at a meeting of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council’s Community, Environment and Partnerships Committee last week, Dr Matt Nisbet, a GP at Crown Heights in Basingstoke and North Hampshire CCG Clinical Lead for Business and Partnership, told members that the new network was a result of “central policy”.

Voicing her concerns, Councillor Jenny Vaux said that she was “very concerned” about the lack of local feel to health, a sentiment which was also echoed by Councillor Tony Jones.

Dr Nisbett, however, said that the change in structure is aimed at both keeping a local-focus, while benefiting from joint-up working across the region.

He commented: “I understand your concern around that. When CCGs were established one of the primary objectives is that they were clinically-led and local-focused, and I think to a large extent they have succeeded in that.

“But there have been things that have been lost in that as well, so this latest structural change was designed to address that. So whilst it’s true that in April the CCGs will merge into a single one, we are still very much retaining a local structure as well.”

At the beginning of 2021, NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSEI) reaffirmed that CCG mergers should still go ahead for April.

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