By Local Democracy Reporter
FIVE authorities responsible for delivering healthcare across mid and south Essex have been given just two months to put together a plan that would see them all merge into one.
Despite having only been in operation for six years, NHS England has confirmed that it is calling for all five clinical commissioning groups covering mid and south Essex to come up with a merger plan by September 30 and for it to be implemented by April 2021.
The clinical commissioning groups operate in all major boroughs across the country and work in partnership with patients, GPs and local authorities to oversee the majority of health services.
This includes emergency care, maternity services and mental health services. They are also responsible for planning services to meet the needs of local people and ensure that high risk health issues are tackled.
The leader of Thurrock Council, Councillor Rob Gledhill, has warned a merger would result in “irreparable damage to the health service” and be “a huge challenge because of the sheer size of the area”.
Next week councillors will discuss a motion that urges the NHS to rethink the proposal. It was tabled by the chair of Thurrock’s health overview and scrutiny committee, Councillor Victoria Holloway.
“This represents a huge change to the whole of region, let alone Thurrock and yet there has been no consultation or scrutiny,” she said.
“It is so important that we have our own commissioning group as it gives us local control over our own pot of money that is designed to be used for our borough’s healthcare needs. If we join with another clinical commissioning group, we are going to have to fight harder for money and access to make high level decisions.”
She added that the NHS has not had any formal conversations with the council. It has also not informed Southend Council.
Councillor Trevor Harp, cabinet member for health and adult social services, said: “Southend Council share Thurrock’s views that the proposed merger could result in a loss of local accountability and could jeopardise the excellent local partnerships that have been formed with Southend CCG.
“However, in view of the fact that Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has not received any formal notification from NHS England regarding the proposed merger it is not possible to comment further”.
Councillor Matt Dent of Southend Labour said he was concerned about plans being created while the secretary of state is still considering whether to reject plans to transform hospital services across the region.
“The idea of putting together a plan of this scale in just two months – I struggle to how it could be possible,” he said.
Simon Wood, director of strategy and transformation at the NHS covering East of England, said: “As set out in the NHS Long Term Plan, our ambition is for CCGs to merge to allow decisions to be made across areas more quickly and easily.”
He added it will have no impact on a plan to transform the delivery of services proposed by the sustainability and transformation partnership (STP) as it is independent of the merger.
Mike Fieldhouse of Save Southend NHS campaign group said the plans were “hastily cobbled together” and “demonstrate the disarray that the government’s plans and management of our NHS are in”.