Category Archives: CCG

Investigating recent developments in the commissioning system

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 (HSCA 2012) introduced major changes into the commissioning system for the English NHS in 2013. Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) were replaced with Clinical Commissioning Groups, clinically-led statutory bodies responsible for the planning and commissioning of health care services for their local area. A new arms-length body, NHS England (NHSE), was established with responsibility for overseeing the work of CCGs. Commissioning responsibilities for local populations are now divided between CCGs, local authorities and NHSE. Since the HSCA 2012 took effect, there have been several
important policy developments, which affect the ‘new commissioning system’.

In 2014, The Five Year Forward View (5YFV) focussed on how organisations in the NHS need to cooperate with each other, and form new configurations known as ‘new care models’ (NCMs), the first wave of which have been designated ‘Vanguards’. There are also other organisational and service delivery changes being implemented across the country, designed to improve the integration of care. These changes take a range of forms including both horizontal and vertical integration.

In 2015, the relevant NHS national bodies issued a further policy document introducing the concept of local cooperative, place based planning, initially known as Sustainability and Transformation Plans and from March 2017 Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs). Despite these developments, there have been no relevant legislative changes, so the HSCA 2012 provisions concerning the respective roles of NHS commissioning organisations and the regulatory framework in respect of both procurement and provider competition remain in force. There is now a more complex local landscape of organisations all of which need to be involved in the planning of local services; and CCGs need to be able to find ways to engage with them effectively. This project investigated the initial stages of this process.

The questions addressed by the research were:

  1. How are CCG internal processes of decision making changing?
  2. What is the role of the individual CCG in the current commissioning landscape?
  3. How is accountability maintained by CCGs in the current commissioning landscape?
  4. How is competition and the current pricing regime relevant to CCGs’ commissioning decisions?
  5. How should commissioning develop?

Download the full report [pdf]>>

Ideal size of commissioning organisation – briefing note

Research evidence note prepared by Prof Kath Checkland, Policy Research Unit in Commissioning and the Health Care System, University of Manchester, Feb 2017, updated Oct 2018

Disclaimer: this note is a brief summary of relevant evidence, prepared in response to a request for a rapid summary from DHSC colleagues. It is not a comprehensive summary of all available evidence. 


This is an issue which has been considered many times over the past decades. When first created in 2003, Primary Care Trusts covered populations of approximately 100,000 – this increased to 300,000 due to mergers in 2005. When CCGs were created in 2013, no specific ‘ideal’ size was stipulated. CCGs vary greatly in size, covering populations from approximately 800,000 to less than 100,000. 212 CCGs went ‘live’ in 2013 – that number has not materially changed since then.

The issues which are usually considered when thinking about size of commissioning organisation are:

  • Large enough to pool the risk associated with rare or expensive treatments
  • Large enough to have ‘clout’ to influence provider behaviour
  • Small enough to understand the needs of the local population and local provider landscape
  • The best size to minimise running costs

Size and performance

The evidence is clear that there is no obvious association between size and measures of performance.

I am aware of two main studies of this topic:

1. Wilkin, D., Bjoke, C., Coleman, A. & Gravelle, H. (2004), The relationship between size and performance of primary care organisations in England. Journal of Health Services Research and Policy, 8, pp. 11-18.


Objectives: To examine the relationship between the size and performance of primary care organisations, the effect of and the reasons for mergers.

Methods: Data on size, proxy measures of performance and merger intentions for 71 organisations were extracted from telephone and mail surveys of primary care groups and trusts (PCG/Ts).

Results: Of the 22 performance measures examined, only two were significantly associated with size, and over half were not associated with any of the potential explanatory variables. Most organisations (70%) were planning mergers. If all planned mergers take place, the mean size of primary care organisations will double to nearly 200 000. The main reasons for mergers were to make better use of resources and for PCGs to become PCTs.

Conclusions: There is little evidence that the performance or efficiency of a primary care organisation is associated with its size. Optimal size may differ for different functions. Mergers are seen as a way of increasing management capacity and may reflect the desire of managers to manage large organisations. There is a risk that larger primary care organisations will recreate hierarchies and lose local ownership and participation.

2. Greaves, F., Millett, C., Pape,U., Soljak, M. and Majeed, (2012) Association between primary care organisation population size and quality of commissioning in England:an observational study. British Journal of General Practice DOI: 10.3399/bjgp12X616364


Background: The ideal population size of healthcare commissioning organisations is not known.

Aim: To investigate whether there is a relationship between the size of commissioning organisations and how well they perform on a range of performance measures.

Design and setting: Cross-sectional, observational study of performance in all 152 primary care trusts (PCTs) in England.

Method: Comparison of PCT size against 36 indicators of commissioning performance, including measures of clinical and preventative effectiveness, patient centredness, access, cost, financial ability, and engagement.

Results: Fourteen of the 36 indicators have an unadjusted relationship (P<0.05) with size of the PCT. With 10 indicators, there was increasing quality with larger size. However, when population factors including deprivation, ethnicity, rurality, and age were included in the analysis, there was no relationship between size and performance for any measure.

Conclusion: There is no evidence to suggest that there is an optimum size for PCT performance. Observed variations in PCT performance with size were explained by the characteristics of the populations they served. These findings suggest that configuration of clinical commissioning groups should be geared towards producing organisations that can function effectively across their key responsibilities, rather than being based on the size of their population alone.

Size and purpose

Those who have studied commissioning qualitatively (including our own work and that of Smith, Mays et al (2013) and the Nuffield Trust (Curry, Goodwin et al. 2008)) tend to conclude that the different population sizes are required for different purposes. Thus, for example, considering the configuration of services for rare or expensive diseases requires a population size large enough to absorb the risk of small numbers of patients costing a great deal. However, whilst commissioners sometimes argue that larger organisations are required to counter the power of large providers, this is not associated with any demonstrable change in outcomes. Many of the things that commissioners are able to influence in a significant way require fine-grained local knowledge (Coleman, Checkland et al. 2009, McDermott, Checkland et al. 2016), which requires smaller organisations with real legitimacy amongst their colleagues. Thus, for example, supporting GPs to manage demand, reducing prescribing costs, managing access etc requires commissioning organisations with clear local roots. Our study of the early stages of primary care co-commissioning (  showed that the attempt by NHS England to commission primary care at national level resulted in a transactional form of commissioning, unable to respond to the nuances of local conditions and problems.

Size and costs

Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) had the freedom to allocate resources to running costs as they saw fit, and these costs varied. These costs seem to have been in the region of approximately £25-£35/head of population, although I do not have exact figures for this. When CCGs were created in 2012, running costs were fixed at £25/head, and this has subsequently been reduced to £22/head. CCGs are encouraged to contract out managerial functions to very large Commissioning Support Units. The extent to which they do this varies (Petsoulas, Allen et al. 2014), but the functions contracted out tend to be those most amenable to economies of scale, such as back office functions, data management and analysis etc. Increasing the size of CCGs would therefore yield minimal additional savings in managerial costs.


The evidence suggests that there is no obvious ideal size of commissioning organisation. Commentators have suggested that what is required are flexible arrangements and regulations that allow organisations to work together across different scales depending upon the type of service involved and the degree of financial risk. Studies of service reconfiguration suggest that local context is very important (Turner, Allen et al. 2011), and it is therefore vital that organisations responsible for significant service changes are local enough to both have legitimacy and to understand the context. There is little scope under current regulations for further economies of scale with regards to managerial or administrative costs.


Coleman, A., K. Checkland, S. Harrison and G. Dowswell (2009). Practice-based Commissioning: Theory, implementation and outcome. Final report. University of Manchester, National Primary Care Research and Development Centre.

Curry, N., N. Goodwin, C. Naylor and R. Robertson (2008). “Practice-based Commissioning: reinvigorate, replace or abandon?” The Kings Fund.

McDermott, I., K. Checkland, A. Coleman, D. Osipovič, C. Petsoulas and N. Perkins (2016). “Engaging GPs in commissioning: realist evaluation of the early experiences of Clinical Commissioning Groups in the English NHS.” Journal of Health Services Research & Policy 22(1): 4-11.

Petsoulas, C., P. Allen, K. Checkland, A. Coleman, J. Segar, S. Peckham and I. McDermott (2014). “Views of NHS commissioners on commissioning support provision. Evidence from a qualitative study examining the early development of clinical commissioning groups in England.” BMJ Open 4(e005970).

Smith, J., S. E. Shaw, R. Rosen, A. M. D. Porter, I. Blunt, A. A. Davies, E. Eastmure and N. Mays (2013). Commissioning high quality care for people with long-term conditions, NIHR Service Delivery and Organisation Research Programme.

Turner, S., P. Allen, W. Bartlett and V. Pérotin (2011). “Innovation and the English National Health Service: A qualitative study of the independent sector treatment centre programme.” Social Science & Medicine 73(4): 522-529.

Understanding Primary Care Co-Commissioning: Uptake, Development, and Impacts. Final report (March 2018)

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 gave the power and responsibility for commissioning health services and budgets to groups of GP practices called Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). CCGs will commission the great majority of NHS services for their patients but will not be directly responsible for commissioning services that GPs themselves provide. The responsibility for commissioning primary care services (medical, dental, eye health, and pharmacy) was given to a new statutory organisation called NHS England (NHSE), known as the NHS Commissioning Board in statute. This was to ensure a more standardised model and consistency in the management of the four groups.

In May 2014, following Simon Stevens appointment as the Chief Executive of NHS England, CCGs were delegated the responsibilities to commission primary care services. This was to enable better integrated care outside hospitals, ensure that primary, community and mental health are properly resourced, and CCGs having more influence over how funding is invested for local population, which would ensure sustainability of their local NHS. Co-commissioning would also enable the development of new models of care such as multispecialty community providers (MCPs) and primary and acute care systems (PACSs), as set out in the NHS Five Year Forward View.

This report presents the findings from a study following the development of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in England. This is the third phase of the project, which aims to understand the ways in which CCGs are responding to their new primary care co-commissioning responsibilities from April 2015, providing feedback to NHSE supporting CCGs going through the approval process.

The study provides detailed evidence about the experiences of CCGs as they took on delegated responsibility for primary care commissioning. The study took place between May 2015 to June 2017. The strength of this study lies in the bringing together of evidence from senior policy makers as to the overall objectives for the policy with both telephone survey and case study evidence as to how it is playing out in practice. The specific research questions addressed in this report are:

  • What is the scope of co-commissioning activity and the process of change?
  • What approaches have been taken by CCGs to:
    • Develop governance structure to oversee primary care co-commissioning?
    • Commissioning and contracting?
    • Manage and develop the relationships between CCGs and their membership and between CCGs and external stakeholders?
    • Manage conflicts of interest?
  • What are the impacts and outcomes CCGs would expect from taking on delegated responsibility and claims of early successes?
  • What factors have affected CCGs’ progress and development?

Download report [pdf]>>

Download executive summary [pdf]>>


Planning and managing primary care services: lessons from the NHS in England

It is generally agreed that access to high-quality primary care is vital in the quest to provide the best possible health care at the lowest cost. Finding new ways to deliver and extend access to primary care services is of high priority in many health systems. The UK is no exception, and the past 30 years has seen a wide range of initiatives focused on primary care—particularly services provided by primary care physicians: GPs. Some initiatives have focused on payment models, altering contracts in an effort to change behaviour. Others have focused on the planning side, repeatedly enlarging, shrinking and reorganizing the organizations with responsibility for commissioning/purchasing primary care services on behalf of a population. In this paper we explore the latest of these policy and organizational changes, presenting the findings from an empirical study investigating recent changes to the commissioning of primary care services in England. Using an historical account of mechanisms to plan and manage GP services in England, we identify some of the issues involved. We explore the espoused logic underpinning the current reforms, and present early evidence about their implementation, highlighting the extent to which they may meet official aims and address the identified issues. The contribution offered is twofold:

  • First, we offer an account of the development of planning and management of GP services in England, bringing clarity to a complex field and providing valuable evidence for those responsible for overseeing primary care services in the UK and internationally.
  • Second, our exploration of the implementation of the latest round of reforms provides some lessons about the interplay between local, regional and national planning, and about the ways in which policy is made and implemented.

Read the paper >>

PRUComm Annual Research Seminar

Since the establishment of PRUComm in 2011 our research has focused on examining how the changes to the English NHS and public health system have developed. We continue to examine the development of CCGs and the new commissioning structures. We have also been exploring the mechanisms by which commissioning is undertaken, such as contracting and the use of competition and cooperation within the new system.

While most media attention has focused on changes to the commissioning and delivery of healthcare, the shift of public health to local authorities was a major part of the reforms introduced in April 2013. We have examined the progress and developments in the public health system with a particular emphasis on how governance and organisational structures develop and whether being embedded within local councils changes the way that public health services are provided. We have also been focusing on primary and community health care with recent projects examining general practice – including methods of funding primary care; research on recruitment and retention; QOF, scaling up primary care and running and analysing two rounds of the GP WorkLife survey (eight and nine).

Our research on CCGs has most recently focused on primary care co-commissioning and new forms of contracting, such as outcomes-based and alliancing. Given the increasing policy emphasis on this area of healthcare we anticipate that we will be increasingly involved in further research on primary and community healthcare. All these topics will be explored in today’s seminar with presentations by researchers from PRUComm.

Programme and speakers biographies [pdf]>>


9.30 Registration and refreshments

10.00 – Welcome and introduction: Professor Stephen Peckham (Director PRUComm).

10.00 – 10.25 Jonathan Walden: (Commissioning Policy Lead): Policy update – Department of Health and Social Care priorities.  Slides [pdf]>>

10.25– 11.00 Dr Lindsay Forbes: Incentivising GPs: Review of the Quality and Outcomes Framework in England. Slides [pdf]>>

11.00 – 11.20 Coffee

11.20 – 12.00 Dr Jon Gibson and Prof Kath Checkland: Satisfaction, sources of stress and intentions to quit amongst GPs in England: the results of the 9th GP Worklife survey

12.00 – 12.40 Dr Marie Sanderson: Examining the implementation of new models of contracting in the NHS: what are the lessons for the formation of Accountable Care Systems?

12.40 – 13.20 Lunch

13.20 – 14.00 Dr Valerie Moran: How are CCGs managing conflicts of interest when they commission primary care? Lessons for Accountable Care. Slides [pdf]>>

14.00 – 15.50 Panel Discussion – STPs, and ACS’s the re-emergence of planning?

15.50 – 16.00 Professor Stephen Peckham: Current PRUComm research programme

16.00 Close

Primary care co-commissioning: challenges faced by clinical commissioning groups in England

The English Health and Social Care Act 2012 gave GP-led clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) responsibility for commissioning the majority of healthcare services for their registered population. However, responsibility for commissioning primary care services was given to a new national body, NHS England (NHSE), to avoid conflicts of interest and because of a perceived need for a standardised and consistent approach to commissioning. It soon became apparent that NHSE was struggling to move beyond a transactional approach to commissioning, focused on payments and contract management. When Simon Stevens took over as the Chief Executive of NHSE (April 2014), he advocated transferring responsibility for commissioning primary care services from NHSE to CCGs. Two years on, how have CCGs responded to their new responsibilities and what challenges do they face?

Read our debate and analysis paper published in the British Journal of General Practice >>

How are CCGs managing conflicts of interest under primary care co-commissioning in England? A qualitative analysis


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.

Read the BMJ Open article >>

Read the blog>>

Commissioning through competition and cooperation in the English NHS under the Health and Social Care Act 2012: evidence from a qualitative study of four clinical commissioning groups


Objective The Health and Social Care Act 2012 (‘HSCA 2012’) introduced a new, statutory, form of regulation of competition into the National Health Service (NHS), while at the same time recognising that cooperation was necessary. NHS England’s policy document, The Five Year Forward View (‘5YFV’) of 2014 placed less emphasis on competition without altering the legislation. We explored how commissioners and providers understand the complex regulatory framework, and how they behave in relation to competition and cooperation.

Design We carried out detailed case studies in four clinical commissioning groups, using interviews and documentary analysis to explore the commissioners’ and providers’ understanding and experience of competition and cooperation.

Setting/participants We conducted 42 interviews with senior managers in commissioning organisations and senior managers in NHS and independent provider organisations (acute and community services).

Results Neither commissioners nor providers fully understand the regulatory regime in respect of competition in the NHS, and have not found that the regulatory authorities have provided adequate guidance. Despite the HSCA 2012 promoting competition, commissioners chose mainly to use collaborative strategies to effect major service reconfigurations, which is endorsed as a suitable approach by providers. Nevertheless, commissioners are using competitive tendering in respect of more peripheral services in order to improve quality of care and value for money.

Conclusions Commissioners regard the use of competition and cooperation as appropriate in the NHS currently, although collaborative strategies appear more helpful in respect of large-scale changes. However, the current regulatory framework contained in the HSCA 2012, particularly since the publication of the 5YFV, is not clear. Better guidance should be issued by the regulatory authorities.

Link to the BMJ Open article>>

PRUComm Research Review August 2016

This is the fourth annual review of our research and provides a brief overview of our current research activities.

Download PRUComm research review [pdf]>>

Interrogating institutional change: Actors’ attitudes to competition and cooperation in commissioning health services in England

Since the beginning of the 1990s the public healthcare system in England has been subject to reforms. This has resulted in a structurally hybrid system of public service with elements of the market. Utilizing a theory of new institutionalism, this article explores National Health Service (NHS) managers’ views on competition and cooperation as mechanisms for commissioning health services. We interrogate the extent of institutional change in the NHS by examining managers’ understanding of the formal rules, normative positions and frameworks for action under the regime of the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Interviews with managers showed an overall preference for cooperative approaches, but also evidence of marketization in the normative outlook and actions. This suggests that hybridity in the NHS has already spread from structure and rules to other institutional pillars. The study showed that managers were adept at navigating the complex policy environment despite its inherent contradictions.

Link to the paper>>