GP and clinical commissioner representatives have given a cautious welcome to the new health secretary, urging him to maintain commitment to local autonomy.

NHS Clinical Commissioners - the group representing around 70 clinical commissioning groups, in collaboration between the NHS Alliance, National Association of Primary Care and NHS Confederation, responded yesterday.

NHSCC interim chair Charles Alessi said he looked forward to a “close and constructive relationship” with Jeremy Hunt.

“It is essential that we do not lose momentum on the pace of the reforms and it is important that there is a smooth handing over of the baton to avoid this,” he said.

“CCG leaders face a really tough challenge to get ready ahead of formally establishing in April 2013. It is essential they have the right support in place to aid their development and operational delivery.

“CCGs need to be engaged in shaping the commissioning system of the future, and involved in finding ways to improve quality and value for money and secure the long-term future of the NHS.

“The NHS Commissioning Board mandate will be crucial to this and it is important it remains at a high level to allow CCGs the flexibility they need to make the right decisions for the needs of their local communities.”

Meanwhile in a statement from the NAPC, Dr Alessi paid tribute to outgoing health secretary. He said: “Andrew Lansley is a politician with exemplary commitment and dedication to his portfolio, which, combined with his understanding of the NHS and the wider health sector, enabled him to overcome the many challenges he faced during his time at the Department of Health. He leaves, as his legacy, the infrastructure on which the work on the modernisation of the NHS will take place.

“The association welcomes Jeremy Hunt and looks forward to forging an effective and productive working relationship with him and his team. The infrastructure is in place to take health care forward in the 21st century and [we] look forward to assisting the incoming secretary of state with the implementation of the modernisation agenda, on which so much will depend.”

And in an NHS Alliance statement, its chair Michael Dixon - also interim president of NHSCC, said: “We are at a crucial point in the implementation of health reforms. We need to ensure that decisions are made at local level to meet the needs of patients.

“There are many challenges ahead, not least issues around integration of healthcare and financial pressures. We expect Mr Hunt to recognise the progress made thus far by those working locally. We need clinicians at every level – whether front line, providers or commissioners – to be equally responsible for the success of the NHS. This was the promise of the reforms and that is what the NHS must deliver.”