After a controversial journey through parliament, the Government’s NHS reforms, known as the Health and Social Care Act, were passed into law a few weeks ago.
As a result, in just under a year’s time, the new ‘Clinical Commissioning Groups’ (CCGs) will have completed their first week as fully established legal bodies, formally replacing the current organisations – Primary Care Trusts.
Between now and then, as CCGs get up and running, they will need to ensure they fulfil their new duties which are included in the Health and Social Care Act.
Two of these are particularly critical for improving things for cancer patients in the NHS.
The first is commissioning health services for the local communities they serve (or, in other words, deciding how much of their budgets they allocate to different types of care).
The second is their duty to promote research across the NHS.
But how will these legal duties be put into practice? Here are our thoughts on how to ensure a successful transition.
Advice on commissioning
Commissioning cancer services is complex and involves a range of experts to ensure that different parts of the service are joined up.
Under Section 26 of the Act, CCGs have a duty to get advice from a broad range of professional experts when planning which services to pay for.
But exactly how this is supposed to happen is still unclear – so we want to see guidance published as soon as possible to help CCGs get proper, appropriate, expert advice.
CCGs need to start working closely with their local cancer networks to plan and commission cancer services to make sure things continue to improve for patients in their local area.
We’re extremely pleased that the Health and Social Care Act gives renewed focus on the role of research in the NHS. Indeed, the Act ensures research is now firmly on the NHS agenda – from Secretary of State down to the CCGs.
But there’s still much to do to make this a reality – the duties in the Act are a platform for change but won’t deliver a difference for patients on their own.
So we need to see several things over the coming months:
- Clear guidance from the national level to support CCGs.
- Much more detail on how the NHS Commissioning Board (the ‘higher level’ body that oversees the CCGs) will support research in practice.
- An outline of how existing bodies such as the National Institute for Health Research and the newly-formed Health Research Authority will work together to ensure research is joined up.
To try to ensure that all these things become a reality, we’ll continue to talk to decision makers in government.
Given the substantial changes afoot, we have to make sure that commissioning for cancer services and cancer research remains a priority, and that plans are put in place to secure their position at the centre of our health service.
- Emily Arkell is a policy manager at Cancer Research UK