Objectives From April 2015, NHS England (NHSE) started to devolve responsibility for commissioning primary care services to clinical commissioning groups (CCGs). The aim of this paper is to explore how CCGs are managing potential conflicts of interest associated with groups of GPs commissioning themselves or their practices to provide services.
Design We carried out two telephone surveys using a sample of CCGs. We also used a qualitative case study approach and collected data using interviews and meeting observations in four sites (CCGs).
Setting/participants We conducted 57 telephone interviews and 42 face-to-face interviews with general practitioners (GPs) and CCG staff involved in primary care co-commissioning and observed 74 meetings of CCG committees responsible for primary care co-commissioning.
Results Conflicts of interest were seen as an inevitable consequence of CCGs commissioning primary care. Particular problems arose with obtaining unbiased clinical input for new incentive schemes and providing support to GP provider federations. Participants in meetings concerning primary care co-commissioning declared conflicts of interest at the outset of meetings. Different approaches were pursued regarding GPs involvement in subsequent discussions and decisions with inconsistency in the exclusion of GPs from meetings. CCG senior management felt confident that the new governance structures and policies dealt adequately with conflicts of interest, but we found these arrangements face limitations. While the revised NHSE statutory guidance on managing conflicts of interest (2016) was seen as an improvement on the original (2014), there still remained some confusion over various terms and concepts contained therein.
Conclusions Devolving responsibility for primary care co-commissioning to CCGs created a structural conflict of interest. The NHSE statutory guidance should be refined and clarified so that CCGs can properly manage conflicts of interest. Non-clinician members of committees involved in commissioning primary care require training in order to make decisions requiring clinical input in the absence of GPs.