The new chair of the NHS Confederation has said the future of clinical commissioning groups depends on whether they can succeed in pushing through service change.

In an interview with HSJ, Michael O’Higgins, who took over as chair in November following the departure of Sir Keith Pearson, said he believed in “organic change” rather than “deckchair moving” as a way of improving public services.

He said: “I would not have been as worried about changing the organisational boxes, but more in encouraging people at a local level to come up with ways of working that suited them.

“We’re stuck with what we’re stuck with, for now… I would prefer not to think we will be moving the deckchairs again in three years’ time, but it partly depends on how successful the reforms are as to whether or not some tweaking might be necessary.” Success, he said, would be in “improving the service to patients and enabling service transformation to take place in terms of better community services.”

“I am yet to meet an older person who says ‘I want to be in a hospital’ when they could have services at home,” he added.

Until September Mr O’Higgins was chair of the Audit Commission, and he continues to serve as a non executive director for Network Rail and the Treasury. He also spent eight years as chair of the charity Centrepoint, and previously worked as a managing partner for PA Consulting, and as a partner at Price Waterhouse.

He told HSJ that, despite the separation of the Foundation Trust Network from the NHS Confederation, and the Health Act’s emphasis on the use of any qualified provider, he still saw the NHS as a single system. The confederation’s role was to provide a voice for the system as a whole.

There is the potential for business growth in supporting the improvement of care, Mr O’Higgins said.

“There are commercial opportunities [for the confederation], but also sharing best practice opportunities, which I think are equally important in the current climate,” he said.

“People are looking for innovation they can trust. People can get bombarded with ideas - how do they know how to separate the wheat from the chaff? Well, if we’re putting a brand on it and saying ‘this has worked and this is how you do it’, then I think they’re much more likely to think this is worth listening to.”

Mr O’Higgins also called for more financial innovation, including a more creative approach to capital spending to enable service improvements and efficiency gains. He advocated a local approach to capital spending in a local area that crossed the divide between health and local government and the commissioner/provider split. The confederation was keen to work with the Local Government Association to support this, he added.