Heatlh chiefs celebrate as NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) comes out of special measures

Health chiefs have been celebrating after Northumberland’s healthcare commissioners have clambered out of special measures and are now rated as good.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 12 July, 2019, 09:29
Dr Graham Sayers

The latest NHS England report on NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which is responsible for planning and buying health services for the county, was published on July 11.

Northumberland’s CCG had been in special measures since the new Ofsted-style ratings were introduced for 2015-16, but now returns to full financial independence.

Lay chairman Janet Guy said: “It’s hard to overstate just how proud I am of everyone here today.

“In testament to the calibre of the staff here, the whole organisation came together as one indivisible team, with the support of our partners in local government and the wider NHS, to ensure we all collectively aimed for excellence in patient care.

“It has been a difficult road and to have reached this point is amazing. Patients across the county will feel the benefit.”

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Dr Graham Syers, the CCG’s clinical director of primary care, added: “We’re delighted. It’s something that everyone has been striving to get to over the last few years and it’s a credit to everybody who’s worked in the CCG and everyone around the CCG in the other organisations – Northumbria Healthcare, NTW (Northumberland, Tyne and Wear mental-health trust), the ambulance trust.

“It’s going to make a difference to all of us to get back to a place where we can start to be in control of what we’re doing for our own population without having that worry about being in special measures.”

He continued: “We are a very diverse county in terms of rurality and urban areas and we have pockets of deprivation in both, so for us to be an organisation that can cater to all those needs is really important. Coming out of special measures gives us more freedom to do those things.”

Dr Syers suggests that the improvement is down to the CCG looking at its entire way of working and how it was making decisions – aiming to share those decisions and make everyone aware of them, ensuring that clinicians were involved as well.

And the improvement is against of context of significant pressures on healthcare both locally and nationally.

He said: “Health is a really difficult place to be just now with the demands going up based on increases in the population of needy people, which tend to be those who are older and we have an ageing population in Northumberland, and yet you’ve got to do it in a cost envelope.

“You have to be very careful about the decisions you make, to make sure you’re not affecting the quality of what’s going on, but trying to make the system work more efficiently for everybody.

“I would say it’s the first step and by coming out of special measures, it does allow some freedoms around decision-making which means you can make them more quickly so you can be more reactive and responsive.”

NHS England also singled out for praise the CCG’s ability and record of working in collaboration with its partners across the region.

Northumberland’s health system does not operate in isolation so it’s therefore noteworthy that North Tyneside and Newcastle Gateshead CCGs have both been rated as outstanding.

“It means our whole integrated care partnership across the North of Tyne and Gateshead can all work together now,” Dr Syers said.

“There’s a lot of work that’s been done to make sure we are all working in parallel with each other, aware of each other’s decisions, aware of each other’s commissioning plans and working carefully with the other providers so that there’s a synergy about what’s going on rather than us all trying to focus on our own areas.

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“Us coming out of special measures allows us to work properly with them to do that.”

While Northumberland was rated as good overall, there were some areas for which it received an outstanding rating, including cancer care and mental health.

On cancer care, Dr Syers said: “Given we are working alongside some really high-performing foundation trusts, the close working with them is what helps with that and that relationship will continue going forward, so that’s good for patients in Northumberland.

“In primary care, we have got some projects going on around early detection of cancer and what happens to patients when they are diagnosed with cancer.

“So although we’ve got outstanding on that, I think that’s really just the start of the story really, there’s more to come.

“The challenge in that area is workforce so we need to make the North East a place that people want to come and work, and having ratings like this helps.”

On mental health, he added: “We have been fortunate that NTW has been a very transformative organisation. They’ve undertaken quite a lot of change, but they’ve done that together with us.

“Improving access to psychological therapies has also been good in Northumberland and getting people into treatment which doesn’t necessarily involved antidepressants from primary care has been really important.

“The other thing that Northumberland CCG has been very active with, partly in conjunction with the local authority, is social prescribing and trying to get the population to look after their wellbeing as well as realising that wellbeing and ill health are sometimes linked more to doing other activities that involve self-care.

“For us in the future, that has to be a really big priority – to enable our population to be self-caring. That includes working with the local authority around appropriate housing, access to exercise and all those good things that stop people getting ill.

“Coming out of special measures, we can be much more innovative around those projects.”

However, there are areas for improvement highlighted in the report and there will be a desire to follow the example of Northumberland’s near neighbours and become outstanding.

Chairman Janet Guy said: “Without a doubt, there is work still to be done. The team have done a fantastic job, but no one is complacent, we have earned this rating and now we have to maintain and improve on it.”

This positive report comes hot on the heels of optimism at the CCG’s annual meeting a fortnight ago about the improving financial situation, despite the organisation’s overall deficit sitting at £57.6million.

It spent £527.4million in 2018-19, resulting in a surplus of £200,000, with the organisation managing to deliver 97 per cent of the £21.6million of savings it was aiming to deliver.

Dr Syers said: “The financial plan going forward is always going to be challenging, but getting to the point where we are now and having a plan that backs up what’s occurring, I would anticipate us being able to hit those budgets going forward.

“It’s about that idea that it’s done in partnership and it’s not just Northumberland CCG trying to make difficult decisions on its own.”