Health minister Lord Howe has attempted to defend the health reforms against HSJ’s finding that fewer than a quarter of clinical commissioning groups will have a GP as their accountable officer.

HSJ analysis last month found that just 22 per cent of all 211 CCGs would have a GP as their accountable officer. The role will be formally accountable for CCGs’ duties, functions, spending and governance. The government and NHS Commissioning Board have encouraged clinicians to take up the roles over the past two years.

The finding was raised in a debate on CCG governance in the Lords last month. Lord Howe responded in a letter to peers.

He says in the letter it is “a matter for the CCG to decide whether it wants to appoint a GP or not” and highlights that “the same Health Service Journal report quoted also stated that 89 per cent of GPs were fulfilling the role of CCG governing body chair”.

But the minister says: “It is important that there is a good mix of expertise with clinicians and managers in the broader leadership team to help a CCG discharge its responsibilities effectively.”

The issue was raised in the debate last month by Labour peer and former health minister Lord Warner.

He said HSJ’s figures showed “a situation in which GPs as a whole are walking away from a leadership role in commissioning”. He said: “That leaves the government’s strategy of increasing clinical involvement in commissioning, which I wholly support, in a very weakened state.

“It suggests… we will end up with more than 200 CCGs replacing 150 PCTs, but still with about 150 PCT chief executive equivalents running the show within CCGs.”

Meanwhile, the government has refused to reveal key details about the national assessment centre for potential CCG chairs and accountable officers. The centre was established by the commissioning board in the spring to assess whether individuals were suitable.

Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley Meg Munn asked in a parliamentary written question how many potential applicants the assessment center had considered for each role, how many were judged to be not eligible for appointment, and what assessment the commissioning board had made of applicants’ suitability.

The commissioning board is due to approve appointments as part of the CCG authorisation process, and has said it will use reports from the assessment centre to make judgements.

Health minister Anna Soubry said she would not answer the questions because the authorisation process had not been completed.

Ms Munn said: “This is further evidence of the shambles of the NHS re-organisation. The history of primary care trusts demonstrated that few clinicians wanted to take on managerial roles in commissioning.

“Instead of finding better ways to involve clinicians in decision making in PCTs, this government has spent a lot of scarce tax payers money only to find itself back where it started.”