The chair of the NHS Commissioning Board has said that the best clinical commissioning groups will be those with the best information systems.

Speaking at a ‘CCG leaders’ conference organised by the NHS Alliance and the National Association of Primary Care, Malcolm Grant also said CCGs would need to use information to tackle variations in primary care.

“I see one of the big responsibilities that we have as driving up quality in primary care, and he way that CCGs can do that is unique,” he added.

However, Grant also indicated that it would be a focus for the new board, which will be responsible for commissioning primary care centrally for the first time.

Where CCGs will obtain IT, information and analysis systems and other commissioning support was one of the focus points of the conference.

Attendees argued that whether CCGs had a choice about these services was a key indicator of whether they really have the “autonomy” they have been promised.

One GP told EHI Primary Care that in her area, both IT and information and analysis was being moved into a commissioning support service by the cluster primary care trust.

She said CCGs were being told they would have “no choice” but to accept what was offered until 2015-16, when CSSs will cease to be hosted by the NHS CB.

However, Grant and other speakers at the conference said CCGs would have choice – albeit after a shorter transitional period.

Dame Barbara Hakin, director of commissioning development for the NHS CB, said the 26 CSSs identified so far are going through a “checkpoint two” process to make sure they are viable and “customer focused”.

She said she expected some CSSs to fail, but larger CSSs would be good for CCGs because they would be able to offer them locally-focussed staff, backed up by the resources of a larger organisation.

The NHS CB expects the managing directors of CSSs to be appointed by June. Beverley Bryant from Capita admitted that it had hoped there would be an open market in commissioning support from the outset.

However, she said Capita and other companies were now looking to work with CSSs, and a “mixed economy” could work well for CCGs, as long as they were demanding and intelligent customers.


Katherine Ward, chief executive of United Health, added that CCGs needed to avoid buying a set of transactional services within the £25 per registered patient “envelope” that has been allowed for commissioning support by the government.

Instead, she said they should be looking for a mix of local and strategic services, and for innovation, particularly around the use of technology.

At the end of the event, health secretary Andrew Lansley also emphasised that CSSs would “support” CCGs and “not control them”, in a speech that also emphasised the “assumed autonomy” of the new organisations.

EHI Primary Care is running a survey of CCG support, IT and information plans. If you are involved in this fast moving area, please take five minutes to complete it.