Talks with local authorities over proposals to merge the Luton, Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) have been labelled “a sham consultation” and “a fait accompli”.
A report on the one BLMK CCG programme was presented to a meeting of Luton Borough Council’s scrutiny health and social care review group. But Labour South councillor David Agbley appeared unimpressed, as he said: “You’ve been to the other boroughs, and I know the Bedford mayor is saying he’s going to hold a referendum on this matter.
“It’s because he thinks you’re going to take away local decision-making. Milton Keynes are also saying the same thing that they don’t support this happening.
“If these elected people say they’re not going to support you and you want to carry on regardless that means you’re doing a sham consultation.”
Director of performance and governance for the CCGs Geraint Davies said: “It’s very important that by merger we’re not losing the local focus.
“We’re not formally consulting on the merger because it’s not a change in service. We’re having an engagement exercise with our various stakeholders across BLMK.
“The views from Bedford Borough are a loss of localism, with a potentially merged CCG, and that’s similar to the concerns from Milton Keynes. We’ve been to Central Bedfordshire as well.
“It wanted assurance around the locality focus and how we engage with local partners. It’s not a sham engagement. It’s about hearing your views and then taking it forward.
“So, it’s not about a sham exercise at all. If we can’t address what colleagues have raised as concerns then the merger may not happen.”
Director of clinical transmission across Luton and Bedfordshire and Luton GP Dr Nina Pearson said: “This is a national direction for NHS England. This is how transformation money flows into NHS coffers to deliver for the needs of our population.
“There’s considerable opportunity that by working together, Luton, Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes, to secure very early on extra funding around mental health, diabetes, maternity care, primary care and development.
“We’ve been right at the front of queue to get that money. It’s only by working together we’ve achieved that.
“We need to optimise what we can get,” she added. “It’s about how you maximise the funding to meet the needs of our population.
“The local element won’t be lost because we’re passionate about really trusting relationships between local authority and health, voluntary and other public sector colleagues.
“It’s not about structures. The people are the same. We’ve come a long way in health in Luton and a long way in primary care.”
Director of primary care Nicky Poulain said: “It just saddens me when you say: ‘It’s a sham.’ We’ve been continuously with you on this journey.“
Labour Limbury councillor Rob Roche said: “If this is the direction of travel, then I look at the representation. We’ve two Luton-based GPs on the governing body, we have a delivery of the local plan through the health and wellbeing board, we’ve a Luton-led executive through yourself Nicky, and a local scrutiny group still.
“I’m glad we’ve the representation required to keep the local focus there.“
Councillor Agbley, who chairs the review group, said: “This has been presented to us as a fait accompli. We note the report and will let the health and wellbeing board deal with it.”