Clinical commissioning groups will ‘ultimately’ be reduced to an advisory role for health and wellbeing boards under a Labour government, according to a shadow health minister.

Lord Hunt told the Nuffield Trust summit yesterday, the statutory role of accountable officer would be transferred from CCGs to the fledgling oversight boards, which would be in charge of local health and social care services.

He said: “In the end, it will be the health and wellbeing board which is ultimately accountable for the health and social care system.”

Lord Hunt

‘There’s no way of getting away from system accountability’, Lord Hunt said

Asked if the HWB would take on the accountable officer role, he said: “That is clearly the journey on which we are going.”

Questioned on “where this leaves CCGs”, he added: “Ultimately, it leaves them in a very important role around the table of the health and wellbeing board as advisers. In the end we have to get system accountability. There’s no getting away from it, at the moment you just don’t have it.”

Speaking exclusively to HSJ at the summit, Lord Hunt stressed that Labour “don’t want there to be a massive restructure where everyone is worried about their future” and that it would be an evolutionary process.

The former health minister said local arrangements would be agreed “amongst all the local parties” and he said that this could, in the first instance, involve a situation where there is a “double lock-in [whereby the CCG and the HWB] agree each other’s commissioning plans”.

Asked what would happen if the CCG refused to play an advisory role, he said:  “The HWB can’t force the CCG [to play an advisory role] because there would be agreement amongst all the parties before putting up a proposal.  

“I think you’ll find in a number of places, people will want to put forward proposals which will be acceptable. You may well start with a model where they have a double lock-in of each agreeing each other’s commissioning plans.”

The precise role CCGs will play under Labour’s proposed reforms, and where the statutory role of accountable officer will reside, has been unclear.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham told HSJ in an exclusive interview in October that he envisaged CCGs as the operational arms of the HWBs.

Mr Burnham said CCGs could function “more as an executive to the health and wellbeing board’s non-executive” role, but did not explicitly address the issue of where the accountable officer would reside.