Objectives To explore the ‘added value’ that general practitioners (GPs) bring to commissioning in the English NHS. We describe the experience of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in the context of previous clinically led commissioning policy initiatives.
Methods Realist evaluation. We identified the programme theories underlying the claims made about GP ‘added value’ in commissioning from interviews with key informants. We tested these theories against observational data from four case study sites to explore whether and how these claims were borne out in practice.
Results The complexity of CCG structures means CCGs are quite different from one another with different distributions of responsibilities between the various committees. This makes it difficult to compare CCGs with one another. Greater GP involvement was important but it was not clear where and how GPs could add most value. We identified some of the mechanisms and conditions which enable CCGs to maximize the ‘added value’ that GPs bring to commissioning.
Conclusion To maximize the value of clinical input, CCGs need to invest time and effort in preparing those involved, ensuring that they systematically gather evidence about service gaps and problems from their members, and engaging members in debate about the future shape of services.
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One of the main focusses of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 (implemented from 2013) was on the development of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to replace Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) in commissioning healthcare for their local populations. This report presents the findings from a second phase of our ongoing study following the development of CCGs in England since 2011.
In the first phase of this study (January 2011 to September 2012), we followed the development of CCGs from birth to authorisation i.e. from their involvement in the ‘pathfinder’ programme and officially becoming sub-committees of their local PCT Cluster until their authorisation in April 2013. One of the issues highlighted by our participants in the first phase of the study was the perception of GP ‘added value’. The aim of the second phase of our study was therefore to follow up those claims made in the first phase around issues of GP ‘added value’. We explored further the potential added value that clinicians, specifically GPs, bring to the commissioning process in interviews, and followed this up with observations of commissioners at work.
Our research used ‘Realist Evaluation’ (Pawson & Tilley, 1997). This approach involves: seeking out participants ‘programme theories’ as to how a particular policy or programme will bring about the desired outcomes; exploring the extent to which these programme theories ‘work’ in the real world; and examining in detail the mechanisms and contexts which underpin them. The
approach is often said to be exploring ‘what works, for whom, in what circumstances’? We applied this approach to GPs roles in CCGs, using interviews to find out what CCG leaders believe are the key aspects of their contribution to commissioning. We then observed a wide range of meetings in order to explore the extent to which the claims they made were borne out in practice, and to try to elucidate the important conditions which supported their roles.
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