Two of Kent’s new health care groups could merge just over a year since they were created.
Separate clinical commissioning groups for Ashford and the Canterbury and Coastal area were set up last April under wide-ranging government health reforms.
However, cash pressures and problems finding enough GPs to take up key roles within the groups have forced a re-think.
The groups, made up chiefly of GPs, replaced primary care trusts and are responsible for commissioning health services for patients across all parts of Kent and Medway. They represent tens of thousands of patients.
In a report setting out the proposals, the two groups say merger would save £531,000 and a further £231,000 in staff costs.
The report states: “Merging presents opportunities to better manage the corporate budget - this will prove very difficult to achieve if the status quo is maintained.”
Care groups have been told to cut their costs by 10% next year and GPs say “merger will allow us to do this while increasing our focus on our localities and member practices.”
At the same time, the groups say merger would cut back on administration, be more effective and allow GPs to focus on patients.
CCGs are responsible for commissioning most health services for patients, including emergency care, elective hospital care, maternity services and community and mental health services.
Ashford’s CCG spent £131m on care last year on services for about 125,000 patients, while the Canterbury group spent £237m.
Labour county councillor Mike Eddy, who is a member of the Kent and Medway NHS scrutiny panel, said the move illustrated the flaws of care commissioning groups and predicted there may be more among cash-strapped groups.
“It means we have fewer and fewer GPs working in surgeries because they are being forced to take time out for meetings and negotiations. It [merger] is very much financially driven. GPs cannot treat patients and manage the NHS at the same time,” he said.
A statement issued on behalf of the two groups said: “We are in the early stages of exploring the possibility of a merger. Key reasons for this include strengthening clinical involvement, removing duplication of effort across the two CCGs and being proactive in our management of any future financial risks.”
“No decision has yet been made. We will not progress the idea unless we have support from our member practices, council colleagues, MPs and patient groups.”