Plans to set up a national communications service for clinical commissioning groups have been abandoned, HSJ has learnt.
The organisation was being set up as a standalone commissioning support service to provide communications and public relations to CCGs around the country.
Guidance from the NHS Commissioning Board issued in March had instructed CSSs not to develop their own communications offer, and instead offer to supply the national service to local commissioners.
However HSJ understands that the communications CSS failed to pass “checkpoint two” of the commissioning board’s own assurance process.
It is now unclear how communications services will be provided to CCGs, and how much of the plan for a national service can be salvaged or adapted into a viable model.
Checkpoint two began at the end of March, and is considered the most critical stage in determining the fitness of commissioning support services.
The assurance process has been conducted by the board’s business development unit, and is now understood to be complete. CSSs were assessed on the basis of an outline business plan submitted to the board, interviews with CSS leaders and feedback from CCGs.
HSJ understands that the plan for a national communications service failed to win enthusiasm from CCGs.
Under the plans rejected under checkpoint two, existing primary care trust and strategic health authority communications staff would have transferred to a specialist NHS communications service.
As with other CSSs, the communications body would have initially been hosted by the commissioning board with the intention of becoming an independent enterprise by 2016.
It was the only one of four “scale” CSSs that was intended to be supplied by a single organisation. Of the rest, business intelligence and clinical procurement will be supplied by some CSSs on behalf of others, while back office functions such as finance and payroll will be bought on a free market basis.
An NHS Commissioning Board spokeswoman said: “We have confirmed today that the proposed communications and engagement commissioning support service in its current form, as a single national organisation, will be stopped, and an alternative business model should be developed.
“This will need to be nationally coordinated in a similar way to the other ‘at scale’ commissioning support offers.”
“The current proposal showed significant achievements in developing the service and demonstrating the benefits from delivering specialist communications and engagement at scale, and these achievements should not be lost.
“The decision was taken after taking account of the feedback from potential CCG customers for the service, which we are committed to do as part of the Checkpoint 2 process.
“The SHA clusters will now work with the board authority to develop an alternative business model for communications and engagement that will ensure the best outcome for local communities whilst still ensuring that CCGs have access to the right support and expertise with regard to regional or national matters.”
HSJ can also reveal the planned commissioning support service for West Mercia has failed checkpoint two. West Mercia primary care trust cluster, which had been developing the CSS plan, was notified by the Midlands and East strategic health authority cluster this week that its plan will not be proceeding any further.